ICE, FBI using driver’s license photos, without permission, for facial recognition searches

Driver’s license photos have been used, without users’ permission, by agents with the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for facial recognition searches.

While their efforts were ostensibly aimed at tracking criminals, the information could be used on citizens who have not committed crime. “Law enforcement’s access of state databases” is “often done in the shadows with no consent,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said in a statement to the Washington Post, which broke the story after reviewing five years’ worth of documents and emails from the FBI and ICE shared with the Post by researchers from Georgetown Law.

"This is a clear violation of consumer privacy when government agencies are allowed to access personal data from driver's licenses without legal consent,” said Adam Levin, author of “Swiped” and founder of CyberScout. “Combining this with facial recognition technology only makes this more dangerous since the technology itself is not always accurate, has been criticized for racial bias and is another tool that adds to our surveillance economy."

Facial recognition has become a hot-button topic for privacy and rights advocates and has drawn concern from lawmakers across the political spectrum.

In May San Francisco’s near unanimous vote to ban facial recognition technology highlighted the rising alarm over civil rights and privacy intrusions and, according to ACLU Northern California Technology and Civil Liberties Attorney Matt Cagle, likely will help pave the way for lawmakers in other jurisdictions – as well as on the federal stage – to curb or ban its use by law enforcement and government agencies like ICE. Somerville, Mass., too, quickly followed San Francisco with a ban on the use of facial recognition technology by city government.

Noting the “uniquely bipartisan recognition of the very significant threat this technology poses,” Guliani recently acknowledged Cummings as a particularly vocal critic of Amazon’s efforts to sell facial recognition technology to law enforcement and realizes how it could be misused against people of color.

Citing a study by the University of Essex, Sky News tweeted that “facial recognition technology used by police forces gets identities wrong 81% of the time.”

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