The real-world use of facial-recognition technology in the justice system is fraught with problems, according to a new report from The Baltimore Sun.
New evidence suggests the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has accessed the Maryland state database of licensed drivers numerous times in the last several years, using facial-recognition software to scan millions of licenses without state or court approval.
The move by ICE has alarmed immigration activists in the state, alleging that the agency has used the database to scan for undocumented immigrants that have received a special driver’s license in the last seven years.
ICE can take a photograph of an unknown person and run it through the database, in search of a match.
“It’s a betrayal of immigrants’ trust for the [state] to turn around and let ICE run warrantless searches on their faces,” said Harrison Rudolph, a senior associate at Georgetown University Law School’s Center on Privacy and Technology. It’s a bait-and-switch. … ICE is using biometric information in the shadows, without government notice or public approval, to hunt down the most vulnerable people.”
A new bill backed by state Democrats would force ICE agents to obtain a warrant before running images through the motor vehicle records and driver’s license database. The bill would also allow the state to track federal queries into the system.
ICE has used the database to scan for undocumented immigrants, mainly in the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area.
“We have seen certain cases where they didn’t have any sort of criminal record but were targeted,” said Lydia Walther-Rodriguez, operations head of Baltimore CASA.
Rodriguez said ICE has used the database to search for immigrants “for years now.”
The Washington Post said ICE has also deployed the software in other state databases, such as ones in Utah, Vermont, and Washington.
“They have a wide-open door to be able to search through anything in this database,” said Maryland Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard), who has openly told state officials that there needs to be more oversight on ICE’s use of the database. “They’ve not been forthcoming in their willingness to [stop it] or coming up with solutions.”
Rudolph said ICE searches affect everyone, not just immigrants, due in part because of the facial-recognition software can produce errors and misidentify people, leading agents to pursue the wrong person.
“If you’re a US citizen and thinking ICE facial-recognition searches don’t affect you, you’re wrong,” he added. “With face recognition, the question is not whether you are an immigrant, but whether an error-prone technology thinks you look like an immigrant.”
Facial-recognition software deployed by ICE to track immigrants is something that tyrannies like China are using to control their population.
Law enforcement agencies across the country have also embraced facial recognition and AI surveillance.
Last month, the Chicago Police Department was caught using a controversial facial recognition tool that scans social media platforms to pinpoint the identity of unknown suspects.
There are additional downside risks of AI surveillance and data harvesting; that is, a hacker can steal the treasure trove of data. This is what happened with a Manhattan-based facial recognition company that uses AI to collect data from unsuspecting social media users reported this week that their entire client list was stolen.
Although AI promises to make ICE and other law enforcement agencies more effective in crimefighting, the troubling trend is that the US could be sleepwalking into a technological tyranny, just like China.