Documents Reveal ICE’s Biometric Scans of DMV Databases

Documents Reveal ICE's Biometric Scans of DMV Databases

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has been scanning DMV records with facial recognition to find undocumented immigrants, according to a new report from The Washington Post.

The revelation arrives via public records requested by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology, and show that ICE agents requested facial recognition searches of DMV databases in at least three states — Utah, Vermont, and Washington. DMV officials in the former two states complied; in Washington, meanwhile, it isn’t clear whether administrative subpoenas relating to facial recognition scans of license applicants actually resulted in such biometric searches.

All three of these states offer driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, as do several other states including New York.

News of ICE’s biometric searches of DMV records offers a further indication of the organization’s of government officials’ growing use of biometric surveillance practices after a 2016 report from the Government Accountability Office exposed the FBI’s FACE (“Facial Analysis, Comparison, and Evaluation”) program, which entails the scanning of millions of images collected from non-criminal databases such as DMV and passport records. A more recent congressional report from the GAO revealed that the FACE program has expanded from a collection of 411.9 million face images in 2016 to 641 photos as of April of this year.

For its part, Washington state’s Department of Licensing told The Washington Post that it does not share the use of its database with law enforcement officials unless it is ordered by a court to do so, while officials in Vermont said they stopped using facial recognition software in 2017. State officials in Utah, whose DMV database has sometimes seen dozens of biometric searches per day, did not respond to the Post’s requests for comment on the story.

The news arrives amid sometimes intense public debate about government agencies’ use of biometric technology and facial recognition in particular, with multiple municipalities having recently moved to restrict such practices.

Sources: The Washington Post, The New York Times

July 8, 2019 – by Alex Perala