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Report: ICE, FBI Conducted Facial-Recognition Searches Of Utah Driver License Database

File photo of a Utah driver license.
Chris Polansky
Utah Public Radio
File photo of a Utah driver license.

A new report claiming that the state of Utah allowed ICE and the FBI to access DMV databases is troubling civil rights and privacy advocates. 

“It was a disturbing finding,” said Harrison Rudolph, an associate at the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law. The Washington Post and New York Times this week reported on Rudolph's team’s research, which found that federal agents have conducted at least 1,000 facial-recognition searches of Utah’s driver license photo database.

“ICE should not be sending face recognition requests to DMVs when those states haven’t passed legislation authorizing ICE to access those databases," Rudolph said. "This is a real subversion of state will.”

Utah began granting driving privileges to undocumented residents in 2005. At the time, the state said personal information would not be shared with immigration officials.

Rudolph said this doesn’t just impact undocumented people.

“Folks should be concerned. This doesn’t just affect immigrants, it affects everyone," he said. "When ICE sends a search request to Utah’s DMV, they’re not just searching immigrants’ photos, they’re searching every driver’s photos. Those problems are amplified because of problems with bias. This technology tends to perform worse on folks with darker skin, on women and younger people. The results ICE are getting back may be deeply flawed. This isn’t a tool that’s effective or that works. When it’s used as a dragnet tool, it affects everyone.”

The Utah chapter of the ACLU issued a statement saying the news should be “alarming to anyone who values privacy and due process. These reports confirm that a massive hidden surveillance infrastructure isn’t just science fiction – it’s already here.”

In a statement to UPR, Governor Herbert’s office said, “Federal agents are never permitted to access the Statewide Information and Analysis Center database.” The statement went on to say that Governor Herbert is “committed to ensuring that Utah’s facial recognition system will only be used for law enforcement purposes and never against law abiding Utahns.”