ICE Using Facial Recognition from State DMV Offices

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In recent documents, it has been revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been mining individual state databases for facial recognition matches for enforcement purposes. The documents were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made by the researchers at the Georgetown University Law Center, specifically by their Center on Privacy & Technology director Alvaro Bedoya. Other federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), also use state’s Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) databases to mine data. They neither have nor require congressional approval to do so. Most of the time, the searches take place without residence’s approval or awareness. In the case of ICE, Bedoya found the agency has used the databases to find matches in states encouraging and allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Across the US, over a dozen states allow undocumented immigrants to apply and qualify for a driver’s license, citing the increase to public safety knowing these people know the laws of the road. Three of those states, Vermont, Washington, and Utah, have seen instances of ICE using the facial recognition technology to secretly find and deport people. Privacy advocates urge the public to pay attention to this issue, as it not only affects undocumented immigrants; federal agencies sift through all files, documented and undocumented, in accordance to law-enforcement procedures. Additionally, there is also the issue of the algorithm’s accuracy, leading many to believe this system can eventually lead to a case of mistaken identity, especially since many states have not verified every identification given to residents using the RealID system instituted in the mid-2000s. The reason the information is so readily available to federal agencies is simply because the laws have not been updated with the technology available. As far back as the 1960s, local agencies have shared information with federal agencies, such as booking photos and fingerprints. This is simply done via a formal request. The process has not been updated to the level of the technology available now. Congressional legislators from both parties have expressed concerns over the current system and have vowed to make attempts to change the current system.