ICE, FBI reportedly scan driver's license photos for facial recognition searches

Mike Mac Kenzie  Flickr

As for the authorization or permission federal agencies need to get before they can use facial recognition to search driver's license photos, the process often involves filling out a request form, according to a review of about a dozen state documents Georgetown Law shared with NPR.

In New York state, however, a new law that allows the immigrants to apply for driver's licenses has safeguards against such searches. "They have to go through us to get information they are searching", Cote said.

ICE spokesman Matt Bourke told the Times that the agency follows "established" protocol. ICE has essentially hid behind a, you know, we-don't-talk-about-investigative-techniques response.

"An innocent individual could become the target of a law enforcement investigation, simply because you have a glitchy computer system", Jake Laperruque, with Project on Government Oversight, says. State officials admitted to the Seattle Times a year ago that the department, which issues driver's licenses, had regularly provided Ice with photos and license applications. "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".

DPS Spokeswoman Marissa Cote acknowledged that the state's database is used to assist in criminal investigations, but only when the requesting agency provides a criminal case number or intelligence report.

Since the Washington Post first reported on ICE using the method on DMV databases, civil rights activists have said the technology could be abused by the Trump administration as it continues to crack down on immigration.

The FBI said its system is 86 percent accurate at finding the right person if a search is able to generate a list of 50 possible matches, according to the GAO.

"Twenty states have given their bureau of motor vehicles, department of motor vehicles, their driver's license database, they've just given access to that to the FBI", Jordan said.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia allow federal investigators to scan driver's license photos, and the FBI has access to more than 641 million face photos across local, state and federal databases, including those containing Americans' driver's license photos, Government Accountability Office records show.

Privacy concerns over the burgeoning use of facial recognition are on the rise as public awareness of the virtually unregulated practice grows.

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San Francisco and Somerville have banned their police and public agencies from using facial-recognition software, citing concerns about governmental overreach and a breach of public trust, and the subject is being hotly debated in Washington.

Driving records and photos in IL are fed into the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System, which law enforcement can search, for example, when someone is pulled over for speeding.

'Facial recognition is a tool that, if used properly, can greatly enhance law enforcement capabilities and protect public safety, ' she said.

While the Green Light Law was created to prevent possible surveillance of undocumented NY state residents, Curtis and Abid said that the use of facial recognition software to target individuals is concerning regardless of citizenship or resident status.

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

Cases involved heroin trafficking, drug smuggling and identity theft, she said.

Cote said the searches are run by state information specialists and images are run through the database "for lead purposes only" and not to initiate investigations.

But Democratic state Rep. Angela Romero called the searches "government overreach" with the potential to spread fear.

For years the Utah Legislature has made it clear that federal access to driver's license records is only permitted on a limited basis, and allowing wide access without legislative approval is a "dangerous misstep".

Still, a range of lawmakers and advocacy groups say they're concerned about Utahns' information being mined by facial recognition software.

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