Report finds FBI, ICE using driver license photos with facial recognition technology

Clay Curtis
July 10, 2019

Revelations about the scale of federally requested face scans have sparked anger in Congress, with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) saying in a statement to The Post that the facial-recognition searches marked "a massive, unwarranted intrusion into the privacy rights of Americans by the federal government, done secretly and without authorization by law".

The FBI has also logged more than 390,000 facial-recognition searches of government databases since 2011, including DMV data, the Government Accountability Office disclosed in June.

To see a list of states are involved, see page 5 of the GAO's Report.

Washington state is an exception to searches, as local officials require a court order before law enforcement agencies are allowed to submit facial recognition data requests. Companies like IBM have 1) scoured social media, image hosting services, and the broader information superhighway, 2) swiped photos, and 3) used them to train facial recognition software.

The newspaper's report - and subsequent stories in the New York Times and on NPR - were based on public records requests and analysis filed by Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology.

But the state Department of Licensing said Monday that it doesn't cooperate with any immigration-related requests from federal agencies.

The figure reflects how the technology is becoming an increasingly powerful law enforcement tool, but is also stirring fears about the potential for authorities to intrude on the lives of Americans.

Responding to the report, ICE told The Hill: "Due to law-enforcement sensitivities, ICE will not comment on investigative techniques, tactics or tools".

As the Post notes, police generally have access to information such as fingerprints but the DMV data allows access to photographs that they then match with suspects. The records show that the DMVs in Utah and Vermont complied to these requests, the New York Times reports, but it wasn't clear if Washington state carried out the requests.

As The Oregonian/OregonLive previously reported, at least a dozen states and the District of Columbia allow people without proof of citizenship or legal residence to legally obtain driver's licenses.

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CORNISH: I understand that in the past, ICE has gone to DMV offices and just asked for records on immigrants.

"This is an established procedure that is consistent with other law enforcement agencies", Bourke said.

In addition to privacy concerns, critics point out facial recognition technology is both unregulated and can be inaccurate. While you might get it right sometimes, I think we have to ask, is the cost of this being wrong so often worth those occasional correct hits?

"Because we were aware of this, that was why our coalition worked very closely with the bill sponsor to craft legislation that would guard against any such abuses by ICE", Curtis said.

Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R) said in a statement that he "is committed to ensuring that Utah's facial recognition system will only be used for law enforcement purposes and never against law-abiding Utahns".

When asked by the Boston Globe about the use of DMV databases, the Federal Bureau of Investigation pointed to the congressional testimony of Deputy Assistant Director Kimberly Del Greco who had argued that facial recognition was crucial "to preserve our nation's freedoms, ensure our liberties are protected, and preserve our security".

"We intend to address any concerns that may arise and work closely with agency leaders so that all Oregonians can be assured of a high degree of privacy", he said.

"Congress should set a floor for how and when this technology should be used, just as we have limits for wiretaps and other kinds of surveillance activities", he said.

The state does not run searches for people whose only infraction is living in the country without proper documentation, Cote said.

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