The Government Accountability Office States That ICE And The FBI Are Using DMV Data To Track Undocumented Immigrants
The FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have reportedly been accessing driver’s license photos for facial recognition searches without license holders’ knowledge, according to The Washington Post. Both agencies have had access to millions of Americans’ photos and all without permission from Congress by tapping into state driver’s license databases. This is all being done with efforts to give the agencies a new source of information on people and as a tool to potentially track both criminals and those who have never committed a crime.
Many are concerned that this is a breach of privacy since this is being done without people’s knowledge or consent.
Millions of licenses were scanned by FBI and ICE agents between 2014 and 2017, without the holders knowing. The FBI and ICE have had access American’s photos through their DMV files which include states like Utah, Vermont, and Washington. This is notable since these states offer a driver’s license or limited permit to undocumented immigrants.
This is thought to be the first known case of ICE agents using facial recognition technology to scan drivers’ licenses for surveillance and crime purposes. The report shows how facial recognition technology has quickly become an integral part of daily law enforcement in the U.S. It’s also being utilized to track down suspects in minor crimes like cashing in a check or theft.
While police have generally had access to info such as fingerprints and DNA, the DMV data allows access to photographs that they then match with suspects. According to the report, while some requests required court order, in some other cases, an email to a DMV employee would be enough to give information on an individual. DMV personnel would then search their data for a potential match and provide it to authorities.
What is ICE enforcement doing with the DMV data?
According to a report from the Government Accountability Office that was published last month, 21 states allowed the FBI to scan through the DMV databases. Under that same report, it notes that since 2011, the FBI has logged more than 390,000 facial-recognition searches of federal and local databases, including DMV databases.
Now, many are asking what exactly is ICE doing with some of this obtained information. The report doesn’t exactly reveal if ICE search requests have led directly to the deportation of undocumented immigrants. Matt Bourke, an ICE spokesman, told the New York Times that he could not comment on “investigative techniques, tactics or tools” because of “law-enforcement sensitivities.”
However, Bourke did say that “during the course of an investigation, ICE has the ability to collaborate with external local, federal and international agencies to obtain information that may assist in case completion and subsequent prosecution. This is an established procedure that is consistent with other law enforcement agencies.”
Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle have expressed their disapproval over reports that the federal agencies were using driver’s license photos.
“This technology is evolving extremely rapidly, without any, really, safeguards, whether we are talking about commercial use or government use,” Elijah Cummings, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman, said at a hearing on the issue last month. “There are real concerns about the risks that this technology poses to our civil rights and liberties, and our right to privacy.”
At a hearing last month regarding facial recognition technology, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said most Americans have yet to be aware or give consent to use their images for facial recognition purposes.
“No individual signed off on that when they renewed their driver’s license, got their driver’s licenses. They didn’t sign any waiver saying, ‘Oh, it’s okay to turn my information, my photo, over to the FBI.’ No elected officials voted for that to happen,” Jordan said.
In various states, undocumented immigrants can obtain drivers’ licenses. But as news comes out about this breach of privacy, many now realize that the data they are providing to get permits is also being utilized by ICE agents.
These states have never told undocumented people that when they apply for a driver’s license they are also turning over their face to ICE,” Harrison Rudolph, an associate at Georgetown, told the New York Times. “That is a huge bait and switch.”