Over the weekend, the U.S. took another step in the slow march toward normalizing hidden database searches as a fact of urban life. A new report from Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials requested access to DMV databases in Utah, Washington State, and Vermont, with the intention of using facial-recognition technology to scan drivers’ photos and match them against criminal and residency databases without their knowledge.
Three years ago, the center revealed that nearly half of all U.S. adults are already in the FBI’s facial-recognition database, which is largely sourced from DMV photos. The documents uncovered this week are the first confirmation that states have granted ICE specifically, not just the FBI, access to those databases.
Vermont and Utah both complied with ICE’s request, The New York Times reported; in Washington, it’s unclear whether the searches happened after being authorized.
The implications for undocumented immigrants are stark: Utah, Washington, and Vermont are among the 12 states that don’t require documentation to obtain a driver’s license. What may have seemed like an olive branch to allow easier access to driving and identification now could be an invitation for investigation, arrest, or deportation.