Agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE) and the FBI are using state driver’s license databases to scan “millions of photos of Americans without their knowledge or consent, ” the Washington Post reported Sunday.
A set of internal documents and e-mails from ICE and the FBI obtained by the Privacy and Technology Center of the Georgetown Law School and provided to the newspaper show that “federal investigators have converted the Department of Motor Vehicles databases ( DMV, for its acronym in English) of the states on the basis of an unprecedented surveillance infrastructure, “said the Washington Post.
Although the use of DNA and fingerprints taken of suspects in other criminal investigations is a common practice, DMV records contain photos of a large number of state residents who have not been charged with a crime, the newspaper reported.
ICE’s informed use of the driver’s license database for facial recognition comes amid an increase in calls from the Trump government to use immigration raids to identify and prosecute undocumented immigrants. President Donald Trump said last month that his government would launch a series of ICE raids sometime after July 4, and interim Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan defended the practice and told ABC that “internal control of the laws “is part of the” balanced control process “.
ICE spokesman Matthew Bourke told CNN in a statement Monday that the department does not comment on investigative techniques, but has “the ability to collaborate with local, federal and international external agencies to obtain information that can help in the termination of the case and subsequent processing.”
“This is an established procedure that is consistent with other law enforcement agencies,” said Bourke.
The FBI referred CNN to Assistant Deputy Director Kimberly Del Greco in Congress last month. In a hearing before the House Commission on Reform and Oversight, Del Greco told lawmakers that technology and facial recognition practices were important “to preserve our nation’s freedoms, ensure our freedoms are protected and preserve our security. ”
According to The New York Times , which also obtained the documents of the Georgetown researchers, this is the “first known example of ICE that uses facial recognition technology to scan the databases of state driver licenses, including photos of legal residents and citizens. ”
Harrison Rudolph, an associate of the Center for Privacy and Technology, told the Times that the states “never approved the laws that authorize ICE to immerse themselves in driver license databases that use facial recognition to search for people.”
“These states have never told undocumented people that when they apply for a driver’s license they are also giving their face to ICE,” he told the Times . “That’s a huge cat for a hare.”
The practice has also raised concerns about the privacy of Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
The chairman of the Oversight Committee of the House of Representatives, Elijah Cummings, told the Washington Post in a statement that law enforcement’s access to state databases “is often done in the shadows without consent.”
According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, the FBI has conducted more than 390,000 searches of facial recognition since 2011. The Washington Post reported that those searches “are often conducted without anything more formal than an email from a federal agent to a local contact.”
Yolonda Kerr is a general assignment reporter at The Grand Newsstand. She has covered sports, entertainment and many other beats in her journalism career, and has lived in San Francisco for more than 8 years. Yolonda has appeared periodically on national television shows and has been published in (among others) NPR, Politico, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Wired.com, Vice and Salon.com.