ICE & FBI Using State DMV Face Recognition Databases

ICE is accessing local surveillance tools and data in their effort to track down undocumented immigrants. The problem is, it puts American’s privacy rights on the chopping block.

September 2, 2019

By: Bobby Casey, Managing Director GWP

ICE FBI surveillance DMV

Rights come from our humanity. Human beings have a unique ability to recognize moral agency in others, and to that end, we define our social limits.

We are free to do as we wish provided it does not infringe of the rights of others. That is the only qualification. Individuals owe no justifications or explanations as to why they choose to do what they do, up to the point that another person or their property is involved.

Liberals and Conservatives alike have become incredibly lenient on these basic terms; which is odd considering how unequivocal words like “shall not be abridged” and “inalienable” implicitly are.

Supposedly, the fact that the US is a “republic” should’ve safeguarded the people from all this government overreach. But I’m reminded that North Korea and China are also republics, as was the USSR.

How do you keep yourself safe? You probably don’t go around preemptively violating the rights of others in some sort of pre-crime effort. If it’s not acceptable for a private individual to do it, then it is not acceptable for a government agent to do it.

Using the government as a sort of mercenary on your behalf is not freedom. It never has been. It never will be. Freedom isn’t defined by what is legal, but by what is moral. The overlap between legal and moral is marginal at best.

The federal government has been all over the place with regard to surveillance campaigns. Edward Snowden certainly shed light on some of the NSA’s goings which compelled them to reel the program in a bit.

But the US political and media landscape is like Las Vegas: a lot of distractions pulling people in every direction.

Here’s a school shooting!

Here’s pedophile scandal!

Here’s a war!

Here’s climate change!

Here’s an election!

Here’s a run on Area 51!

Here’s an abortion law!

Here’s a drug bust!

Here’s an illegal immigrant!

Here’s a terrorist!

Here’s an offshore expose!

Here’s free healthcare and education!

Here’s a random statistic you should be angry about but don’t know why!

Flickering this and jiggling that, it’s no wonder things are as dire as they are. People have become generally frenzied, and put the precepts of freedom on the back burner. It’s not because of the times we live in, because this was a warning issued by Benjamin Franklin, that we should not sacrifice our liberties for a sense of safety.

Yet here we are. About a year and a half ago, I told you how ICE and CPB are trying to access the NSA’s database. ICE is intent on obtaining surveillance capabilities. While they might get the cooperation of the NSA and on-boarded Vigilante Solutions, they are also tapping into local state databases along with the FBI.

These federal agencies are soliciting the cooperation of the DMVs in each state, based on some vague laws instructing DMVs to cooperate with law enforcement agencies. While the laws predate facial recognition technology, the DMVs still comply with any federal demands.

Several states have allowed undocumented immigrants to get driver licenses. The facial recognition software being used by ICE and the FBI taps into that general database, which also happens to include legal residents and citizens.

1. There’s no federal authorization to do this. It is another case of “we’ll do it until someone with the right authority tells us to stop”. Without authorization, there’s also no oversight.

2. The facial recognition technology is wildly unreliable. MIT reviewed it, and concluded it under performs on women and people with darker skin tones.

Alvaro Bedoya, the founding director of Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology says in his interview with NPR:

“[I]t’s really important for folks to realize that, even if you’re not undocumented, this does affect you because the software is biased and doesn’t really detect or find people of color, women or young people really well. The question isn’t whether you’re undocumented, but rather whether a flawed algorithm thinks you look like someone who’s undocumented.

Once again, the surveillance dragnet snags innocent individuals. Even if you are among those who are fine with it, that doesn’t have much baring on those who aren’t. “Matching the description” is tantamount to “the dog detected drugs”.

Here’s the problem with that: dogs are less accurate than a coin toss when it comes to drug detection.

These methods are not even mostly accurate. Which means, some random American is getting screened and tossed for actions they never committed based on a very weak lead.

Not only is this an assault on privacy rights, but it compromises due process by diluting what constitutes probable cause. In the same way a sobriety check point presumes probable cause by virtue of someone driving down a certain piece of road at a certain time, this too presumes probable cause because a glitchy algorithm says you match a picture.

It’s not okay to harass innocent people while pursuing those who pose no inherent danger to society. Never forget that Watertown, MA was the first time in centuries since the 3rd amendment was violated… and Americans cheered.

Imagine looking for jay walkers with this same kind of fervor. Imagine not looking for thieves and violent offenders with this same fervor. The political priorities of the US government are broken.

The ease with which the surveillance state expands and carries out its business shows how the scales have tipped from where the government was once under strict rules and scrutiny, to now the people are under strict rules and scrutiny.

The surveillance state is the federal government tacitly admitting that they now operate with a presumption of guilt, rather than innocence.

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  1. Much as I dislike political government and politics as they are violence and the bane of humanity, I knew when the politicos offered driver licenses to illegal aliens that it would trap the same. With the DL the tyrants know where you are and can fetch you in short time. The commie/socialist Democrats lured the unsuspecting and ignorant illegal aliens with the “carrot” of the DL with the expectation that this “bribe” of a DL would also mean these criminals would vote Democrat. Does anyone not see the whole track of dishonesty and immorality of commie/socialist, corruptifornia, Democrat tyranny government,?

  2. My father taught me to never criticize without having a solution, ergo, …….

    • Kelly Diamond says

      There’s no problem that needs a solution here. The government literally creates problems and criminals out of thin air through their prohibition by fiat. The solution is to stop spying on free people because the problem is spying of free people.

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