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Utah Lawmakers Demand Answers After Reports Of FBI, ICE Access To State Databases

The House Chamber in the Utah State Capitol. File photo.
Utah House of Representatives
The House Chamber in the Utah State Capitol. File photo.

Utah lawmakers demanded answers after reports this week that ICE and the FBI were allowed to run facial-recognition searches on the state’s driver license photo database. 

“It was a surprise to us, and we don’t like surprises when it has to do with the identity and privacy of our citizens,” said State Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne (D-West Valley City).

Mayne said she learned that federal agents were searching Utah’s driver license photo database the same way the public did: by seeing it in the national news.    

Mayne was one of a number of state lawmakers speaking out. 

“We’ve got to get to the bottom of it," said House Minority Leader Brian King (D-Salt Lake City). "I just can’t imagine that any lawmaker would be comfortable. I’ve spoken with a couple of people one-on-one on the other side of the aisle in the House, and they’ve expressed the same concerns I’ve been public about. I just think that everybody’s going to want to get answers.”  

King said that he was most troubled by reports that ICE was able to search for undocumented residents with facial recognition technology. When Utah began granting driving privileges to undocumented people in 2005, the state promised that information would not be shared with immigration officials. 

“I think it has a very chilling effect on their population in a way that – I mean, it’s bothersome to me just from a civil liberty perspective, from a privacy perspective, from the perspective of having technology invade my life," said King. "But it doesn’t put myself at risk and my family at risk in the same way as individuals who have applied for these driver registration cards.”

Other members were unhappy with what they felt was an overreach of the state’s executive branch.  

“What’s most troubling is we haven’t given legislative authority," said Assistant Minority Whip Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City). "Where does it end? It’s a message.”

Romero, King and Mayne - all Democrats - each said they were optimistic that state Republicans will work with them in good faith to address the issue. Speaker of the Utah House Brad Wilson (R-Kaysville) and Utah State Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City), both Republicans, did not respond to requests for comment.