Newly released reports show that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been using state driver’s license databases to look through millions of American’s photo IDs without their consent or knowledge for facial recognition searches.
The study, completed by Georgetown University law researchers, has uncovered thousands of emails, internal documents, and facial recognition requests made over the last five years to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
It is common knowledge that police and law enforcement agencies have access to such things as DNA, fingerprints, and other biometric data to find suspects and persons thought to have been involved in crimes. Unlike these databases, the DMV contains records of nearly all of a state’s residents, most of which have never been involved in criminal activity.
According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), there are 21 states in which such data can currently be used without a warrant or a court order.
However, that is likely to begin to change, as the issue has many to believe that it is a severe breach of public trust – and one that could be quite dangerous and lead to more arrest errors than ever before.
Representative Jim Jordon of Ohio is one such voice of opposition to the process. Jordan, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s top-ranking Republican, says, “No individual signed off on that when they renewed their driver’s license, got their driver’s licenses. They didn’t sign any waiver saying, ‘Oh, it’s OK to turn my information, my photo, over to the FBI.’ No elected officials voted for that to happen.”
He and other members of Congress, as well as state and local officials in several states, from both party sides, are looking into that matter further to decide on whether or not access to DMV information by the FBI and ICE should be allowed to continue.
The Oversight Committee’s chairman, Democrat Elijah Cummings from Maryland says, “Law enforcement’s access of state databases is often done in the shadows with no consent.”
The House Committee on Homeland Security is holding a hearing on Wednesday where officials from the Transportation Security Administration, Secret Service, and Customs and Border Protection are expected to testify about how they use such technology.
Already cities such as San Francisco and Somerville, Massachusetts have banned the use of facial recognition software from being used by their public agencies and police. According to them, not only is it a breach of trust but is considered by some to a form of governmental overreach.
However, the study also shows that the use of these databases in facial recognition has been used for some time and is well ingrained in daily law enforcement routines, allowing many suspects and persons of interest in criminal cases to be brought to justice.
The GAO said last month that since 2011 the FBI has documented over 390,000 facial recognition searches that have used both state and federal databases, including those of the DMV. Many such cases show that the DMV is contacted daily by federal investigators of the FBI and ICE and holds close working relationships within each office.
It has been documented that even suspects of low-level crimes such as petty theft and cashing a stolen check have been found using such technology, which many think to be a very futuristic process.
Along with criminal suspects and the like, facial recognition using DMV databases has been documented to find and deport undocumented immigrants within several states. States such as Vermont, Utah, and Washington all allow undocumented immigrants to get full driver’s licenses or permits. So when the ICE is looking for illegal immigrants within those states, they often use data from the DMV.
According to the FBI Deputy Assistant Director Kimberly Del Greco, facial-recognition software and technology are crucial “to preserve our nation’s freedoms, ensure our liberties are protected and preserve our security.” The agency also says that they expect each agent using such tech to obtain valid proof and verify any findings before arrests or criminal charges are made.
Many states and local agencies which allow the FBI and ICE to access DMV databases also make sure specific rules and regulations are followed, such as any searches must be relevant to ongoing criminal investigations.