ICE Has Begun Accessing State DMV Drivers License Databases
“The public doesn’t have a way of controlling what information the government has on them. And now there’s this rapidly advancing technology, with very few guidelines and protections for people, putting all of this information at their fingertips in a very scary way.”
Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology recently compiled a report disclosing that officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement have asked for access to DMV databases in three states.
According to the report, ICE officials plan to use facial-recognition software to analyze driver’s license photos to compare with “criminal and residency databases.”
Which States Have Granted ICE’s Request?
So far ICE agents have asked for access to DMV databases in Utah, Vermont and Washington state. The New York Times reported that Vermont and Utah granted ICE’s request, although whether the searches happened after they were authorized is unclear.
Georgetown Law’s Center disclosed three years ago that almost half of American adults are in the FBI’s facial-recognition database, sourced primarily from DMV photos. The Center’s recent report revealed that ICE, specifically, in addition to the FBI, had access to the DMV databases.
Utah, Vermont and Washington are part of a network of 12 states that do not ask for documentation for people to acquire a driver’s license. Nextgov speculates whether what appeared to be an effort for people to have better access to identification and driving could be “an invitation for investigation, arrest or deportation.”
“The purpose of driver’s licenses is to keep people safe, not to enable ICE to terrorize immigrant communities,” ACLU’s technology and civil liberties attorney Jake Snow told Nextgov. “Neither Congress nor the states have ever legislatively authorized this conduct.”
ICE Can Access Public Information in Multiple Ways
This may be the first time the public has heard of ICE using driver’s licenses for facial recognition, but officials already have other methods of accessing public information. One example is Vigilant Solutions, the company that manages the most comprehensive database of driver’s license photos in the U.S.
The organization has an agreement with ICE where agents can submit a license plate number and access a log of each place it has been recognized by certain cameras. Last year, Vigilant Solutions used its cameras to access data from malls in California. Initially, the company denied the incident, until new owner Motorola Solutions confirmed the allegations were true.
Since most U.S. adults have driver’s licenses or identification cards, the majority of American adults are in the DMV’s database. Essentially, having access to DMV databases allows law enforcement officials to conduct searches without a warrant.
“The public doesn’t have a way of controlling what information the government has on them,” Jacinta González, organizer for the advocacy group Mijente, stated publicly, as The Washington Post reported. “And now there’s this rapidly advancing technology, with very few guidelines and protections for people, putting all of this information at their fingertips in a very scary way.”