Is ICE using driver’s license photos to find undocumented immigrants?

Privacy advocates are raising red flags about the use of facial recognition software by federal law enforcement agencies.

Documents obtained by Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology show that three states that allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses are also allowing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to search driver’s license photo databases using facial recognition technology.

“The fact that, in at least three states, undocumented people came out of the shadows to get these licenses — only to have ICE take advantage of that to track them down — is in our eyes a deep betrayal, “ said Alvaro Bedoya, the founder and director for the center at Georgetown.

Researchers have uncovered that ICE is accessing facial recognition databases, which include driver’s license photos in more than a dozen states. From 2015 to 2017, documents show that Vermont, Washington and Utah — states that allow allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses — also allowed ICE to search their driver’s license databases.

Georgetown researchers have been sounding the alarm about unregulated police use of facial recognition since 2016.

In a report titled, “The Perpetual Line-Up,” researchers pointed out that the FBI utilizing state’s driver’s license photo databases is highly problematic because the network includes mostly law-abiding Americans.

Purpose For Investigators Using Facial Recognition 

Florida has one of the largest facial recognition database in the nation, known as FACES, which is run out of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. It includes mugshots from arrests and driver’s license photos.

It was established between 2001 and 2008 and allows the FBI, ICE and dozens of state and local law enforcement agencies access.

“It’s not only used to help put a bad guy in jail, it’s used to help identify a body that’s pulled from the woods, or that’s pulled from the water,” said Jake Ruberto a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Technical specialist in 2017.

Before any agency can gain access to FACES, PCSO requires a memorandum of understanding to be signed by the agency.

In it, the agency agrees to properly train staff utilizing FACES and to only use the system for criminal justice purposes.

In Florida, undocumented immigrants are not permitted to get driver’s licenses. So, in theory, ICE would only have access to facial images of undocumented immigrants who have a Florida mugshot.

ICE did not respond to an email from WINK News regarding it’s use of facial recognition in Vermont, Washington.

Congress will hear testimony from the Department of Homeland Security on how the agency is utilizing facial recognition on Wednesday.

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