Jul 8, 2019

ICE uses driver's license photos for facial recognition searches: Report

Photo: Mario Villafuerte/Getty Images)

The FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have been using driver’s license photos for facial recognition searches without their owners' knowledge or consent, the Washington Post first reported Sunday.

Why it matters: This is the "first known instance of ICE using facial recognition technology to scan state driver’s license databases, including photos of legal residents and citizens," notes the New York Times, which reviewed the details that Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology obtained via public records requests.

In Utah, Vermont, and Washington, undocumented people come out of the shadows to get drivers licenses. ICE then asks those DMVs to run face recognition searches to find and deport them."
— Center on Privacy & Technology founding director Alvaro Bedoya tweet

The big picture: Lawmakers including House Oversight Committee members have expressed concern previously over aspects of the FBI facial recognition database. The NYT notes that use of such technology by law enforcement is neither new nor rare, with more than 2 dozen states allowing law enforcement to request searches against driver’s license databases.

  • A Government Accountability Office report published in June shows the FBI has been accessing state law enforcement photo databases for nearly a decade, in particular those concerning visa and driver’s license applications.
  • In May, San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to ban facial recognition technology by police and municipal agencies. However, Federal law enforcement is exempt.

What they're saying: The FBI referred the WashPost to the testimony that deputy assistant director Kimberly Del Greco gave to Congress in June in which she said facial-recognition technology is critical "to preserve our nation’s freedoms, ensure our liberties are protected, and preserve our security."

  • ICE declined to answer the WashPost's questions because it said "investigative techniques are generally considered law-enforcement sensitive."

Go deeper: Congress questions FBI over facial recognition database

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Group seeks ban on government use of facial recognition

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Digital rights group Fight For the Future is calling on Congress to ban government use of facial recognition. The announcement, to be made Tuesday, comes in the wake of weekend reports that federal authorities used facial recognition on millions of driver's license photos.

Our thought bubble: An all-out ban is unlikely, but the position makes for a strong opening salvo in the looming fight over regulating facial-recognition tech.

Go deeperArrowJul 9, 2019

Kids at the center of facial recognition

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facial recognition is going everywhere far faster than expected — including creeping into private and public spaces as a means to keep tabs on children.

Why it matters: The people with the power to rein in this tech are the same ones who will most enjoy its benefits — while those who face its adverse effects, especially people of color and low-income communities, will be largely powerless to make anything change.

Go deeperArrowAug 2, 2019

Rise of the digital neighborhood watch

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Residents of major American cities are constantly watched by ubiquitous cameras, mushrooming license plate readers and a battery of new smart city sensors.

But, but, but: It's not just the government keeping tabs. An explosion of private surveillance — set up by businesses, landlords and neighbors — is being driven by increasingly cheap but powerful technology. And what these observers see could make its way back to law enforcement.

Go deeperArrowJul 24, 2019