State agencies that issue drivers’ licenses are conducting warrantless searches of their databases of license photos, using automated face recognition software, at the request of law enforcement agencies including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security.
The use of automated facial recognition to search databases of drivers’ license mug shots was revealed in responses to requests made under the Freedom Of Information Act and state public records laws by the Georgetown University Center on Privacy & Technology. It was reported in recent days in the Washington Post, New York Times, and in two stories on NPR, and was discussed in a Congressional hearing today on the use of automated facial recognition by Federal agencies. (Earlier Congressional hearings on automated facial recognition were held on May 22nd and June 4th.)
Questions are being asked by members of Congress, state officials, and civil libertarians: What is the legal basis, if any, for these dragnet searches of drivers’ license photo databases? How have they have evaded judicial oversight? Warrants or court orders were neither requested by DHS or other law enforcement agencies, nor demanded by the state agencies that carried out the searches in response to extrajudicial administrative requests.
A letter sent this week by a coalition of civil liberties organizations calls on Congress to suspend the use of facial recognition technology by the DHS. While that is appropriate, it doesn’t address how, from what sources, or on what legal basis databases of ID-linked mug shots of innocent individuals are being created and obtained by the DHS.
Additional questions ought to be asked about the implications of the latest revelations for the REAL-ID Act and the use of facial recognition by airlines, airport operators, and DHS officers and agents at airports and borders: