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FBI and ICE Used Facial Recognition to Scan Driver’s Licenses

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  • New documents show that ICE and the FBI have been using facial recognition technology to scan millions of Americans’ photos through state driver’s license databases.
  • This is the first known instance of ICE using facial recognition to look through these databases.
  • ICE officials reportedly requested to look at databases in Washington, Vermont, and Utah, all states that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses.
  • There are no federal or state laws that allow either ICE or the FBI to use this technology on DMV databases, and in some cases, states have privacy laws preventing it.

New Documents

New documents reportedly show that Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents used facial recognition to scan millions of Americans’ photos without their knowledge or consent by accessing state driver’s license databases.

Researchers at Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology used public-records requests to get thousands of internal documents, emails, and facial-recognition requests from the past five years and gave the documents to The Washington Post and The New York Times.

This new information represents the first known instance of ICE using facial recognition technology to look through states driver’s license databases, which include millions of photos of legal residents and citizens.

According to the reports, the documents show that ICE officials requested to look through the databases of at least three states that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses. Those states were Utah, Vermont, and Washington.

According to The Times, Utah and Vermont complied with the searches. In Washington, ICE agents authorized subpoenas of the Department of Licensing (DOL) to use facial recognition technology to scan all photos of license applicants. It is unclear if the state actually carried out the searches.

ICE

Congress and state legislatures have not authorized ICE to conduct these kinds of searches.

Harrison Rudolph, a privacy expert and an associate at Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology told The Times, “This is a scandal.”

“States have never passed laws authorizing ICE to dive into driver’s license databases using facial recognition to look for folks,” he said. “These states have never told undocumented people that when they apply for a driver’s license they are also turning over their face to ICE. That is a huge bait and switch.”

ICE accessing these databases even seems to run counter to laws passed in some states.

In 2012 the Washington State Legislature passed a law that said ICE could only use facial recognition on driver’s licenses when authorized by a court order, which ICE did not do.

Officials in Vermont stopped using facial recognition technology in 2017 after the ACLU found records showing that the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) had been conducting searches in violation of state law.

Still, both state’s have been involved in scandals where licensing officials provided ICE with information about undocumented immigrants. Last year, The Seattle Times reported that the Washington State DOL was giving ICE the license applications of undocumented immigrants.

In January, activists filed a lawsuit in Vermont after public records showed that the state DMV gave ICE names, photos, car registrations, and other information about undocumented immigrants.

FBI 

Democratic and Republican lawmakers at the federal level have also echoed similar sentiments about how the FBI has not been given congressional authority to conduct these searches.

“Law enforcement’s access of state databases [is] often done in the shadows with no consent,” Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, who is the House Oversight Committee Chairman, told The Post in a statement.

Last month, Rep. Jim Jordan, who is the House Oversight Committee’s ranking Republican, also criticized using federal facial-recognition searches on driver’s license photos in a hearing. 

“They’ve just given access to that to the FBI,” Jordan said.“No individual signed off on that when they renewed their driver’s license, got their driver’s licenses. They didn’t sign any waiver saying, ‘Oh, it’s okay to turn my information, my photo, over to the FBI.’ No elected officials voted for that to happen.”

Regardless, the FBI has still conducted hundreds of thousands of facial recognition scans on driver’s licenses.

According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, the FBI has run over 390,000 facial recognition searches through state, local, and federal databases. They also have access to databases in 21 states that hold over 641 million photos.

While those states have rules for the searches, like that each search has to pertain to a criminal investigation, the FBI does not provide much information about when the searches are used, who they target, or how often they return false matches.

Many experts have said that inaccuracies in facial recognition technology can lead to false identification or wrongful arrests. Multiple studies have shown that people of color are more likely to be misidentified by facial recognition software, especially women of color.

According to The Post, the records given to them show how easily federal investigators can access state licensing databases.

While states like Washington require federal subpoenas or court orders, a lot of the search requests only involved sending an email to a DMV official with a “probe photo” of a target attached. 

The DMV official would search their database and give the investigators details of possible matches. Those capabilities were not only used to identify criminal suspects, but also “to detect possible witnesses, victims, bodies, and innocent bystanders and other people not charged with crimes,” The Post stated.

The FBI did not provide a comment, and a spokesperson for ICE told The Times the agency would not comment because of “law-enforcement sensitivities.”

“During the course of an investigation, ICE has the ability to collaborate with external local, federal and international agencies to obtain information that may assist in case completion and subsequent prosecution,” the spokesperson said. “This is an established procedure that is consistent with other law enforcement agencies.”

In May, San Fransico became the first city to ban the use of facial recognition technology by city departments like the police. Last month, Somerville, Massachusetts followed suit and banned their police and public agencies from using facial recognition software.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Vice)

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Guards Charged With Falsifying Records After Allegedly Shopping Online and Falling Asleep the Night of Epstein’s Death

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  • Federal prosecutors charged guards Tova Noel and Michael Thomas with falsifying documents that said they had completed prisoner checks the night convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein died.
  • An indictment alleges that the two did not complete any rounds, and instead, both spent time online shopping and sleeping.
  • Both guards rejected a deal from prosecutors and pleaded not guilty.

Guards Charged With Falsifying Records

Federal prosecutors charged two guards on Tuesday for falsifying documents on Aug. 10, the night that sex offender Jeffrey Epstein died.

Epstein reportedly committed suicide in New York at the Metropolitan Correctional Center where he was awaiting trial on federal charges of sex trafficking minors. Shortly after his imprisonment began, Epstein reportedly tried to commit suicide and was placed on suicide watch for a week before being taken off.

Even though Epstein was no longer on suicide watch, prison officials moved his cell to within at least 15 feet of the guards’ desks to monitor him more closely.

The indictment, however, alleges that guards Tova Noel and Michael Thomas lied on signed documents to say they had carried out required half-hour rounds, when in fact they had not.

According to the charges, both were also supposed to have performed additional sets of more-detailed prisoner checks and headcounts at midnight, 3 a.m., and 5 a.m. The accusation, however, states that the guards “repeatedly failed to complete mandated counts of prisoners under their watch.”

In fact, according to the charge, the last time anyone saw Epstein alive was around 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 9 when Noel reportedly briefly walked up to and then away from the door to the tier that held Epstein. The indictment asserts that video footage showed no one else approaching Epstein’s cell for the rest of the night.

The indictment claims the two “sat at their desk” and “browsed the internet,” with Noel spending part of the night shopping for furniture while Thomas shopped for motorcycles and looked at sports news.

At one point, the indictment says both sat at their desks for two hours without moving, concluding that the guards had fallen asleep on duty.

Noel and Thomas then allegedly “repeatedly signed false certifications attesting to having conducted multiple counts of inmates when, in truth and in fact, they never conducted such accounts.”

Around 6:30 the next morning, Noel found Epstein’s body when delivering his breakfast. She then reportedly told a supervisor that they hadn’t completed their 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. rounds.

Thomas, however, said that they hadn’t done any of their rounds that night. 

“We messed up,” he said, then adding of Noel: “I messed up. She’s not to blame. We didn’t do any rounds.”

Following their Tuesday indictment, both guards were taken into custody. In federal court, they both pleaded not guilty to six different counts of record falsification after they rejected a plea deal where they would have admitted to the crime.

Shortly after their arrests, both were released on bail for $100,000 each. 

Arguments from Attorneys

During their hearing, Thomas’ attorney argued that the guards were being scapegoated.

“We feel this is a rush to judgment by the U.S. attorney’s office,” he said. “They’re going after the low man on the totem pole here.”

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman rejected such a conclusion and said the guards were being charged for breaking federal law.

“As alleged, the defendants had a duty to ensure the safety and security of federal inmates in their care at the Metropolitan Correctional Center [MCC],” he said. “Instead, they repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates, and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction.”

See what others are saying: (NY1) (NBC News) (Heavy)

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‘Meth. We’re on it’: South Dakota’s New Anti-Drug Campaign Met With Ridicule

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  • Officials in South Dakota launched an anti-meth campaign with the slogan “Meth. We’re on it,” which has been mocked and ridiculed online. 
  • Others have also called the motto “tone-deaf” to those impacted by the epidemic and have criticized the state for spending nearly $450,000 on the campaign ads.
  • However, South Dakota’s governor seems happy with the response, saying that the campaign is working because its mission is to get people talking about the issue.

South Dakota Is on Meth

South Dakota launched an anti-drug campaign on Monday with the highly criticized slogan: “Meth. We’re on it.” 

According to state records, South Dakota’s Department of Social Services paid a Minneapolis ad agency $448,914 for the campaign, which includes billboards, commercials, and social media photos that aim to raise awareness about the state’s growing meth epidemic

“South Dakota has a problem,” said a message on the campaign’s website, onmeth.com. “There isn’t a single solution because meth is widespread. But we can approach it from different angles, so it doesn’t take over counties, towns, neighborhoods. Let’s work together. Meth. We’re on it.”

As you might have seen all over social media by now, photos for the initiative include South Dakotans of various ages alongside the motto.

 A video for the campaign also features different South Dakotans saying “I’m on meth.”

State’s Meth Epidemic 

Drug addiction is actually a serious problem in the state. When announcing the initiative, officials said that in 2019, 83% of the state’s court admissions were specifically related to meth. On top of that, twice as many 12- to 17-year-olds reported using meth compared to the national average, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 

The issue was one the Republican Governor Kristi Noem, the state’s first female governor, has promised to focus on. In the past, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have criticized the state for relying heaving on the incarceration of drug users instead of investing in treatment. 

Last summer, the state asked companies to pitch them ideas for an aggressive marketing campaign to bring awareness to the meth epidemic, with the Minneapolis firm Broadhead winning the project and grabbing Noem’s attention.

According to a news release for the initiative, officials plan to combat the issue from a law enforcement standpoint by implementing meth task forces in areas known for the majority of the state’s arrests. 

Additionally, Gov. Noem requested more than $1 million in funding to support meth treatment services. The campaign’s website, onmeth.com, also promises to connect residents to preventative and treatment resources. 

Slogan Criticism 

Still, some people couldn’t get past the slogan. Though it was met with a slew of jokes, some also called the ad tone-deaf to the pain and devastation the epidemic has caused. Others fear that laughing at the issue could bring shame to those struggling with addiction. Meanwhile, many criticized the state for spending so much on the ads.

Bill Pearce, assistant dean at the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, told The Washington Post that any sincere messaging by the governor was lost by an ad campaign that embodies “poor strategy and poor execution.”

“I can’t imagine this is what they intended to do; any good marketer would look at this and say: ‘Yeah, let’s not do that,’ ” Pearce told the paper. “I’m sure South Dakota residents don’t like being laughed at. That’s what’s happening right now.”

State Officials Double Down

However, it appears that officials are happy with the reactions they are getting online. In fact, state officials are suggesting that the motto was intentionally designed to be provocative. 

In a statement to The New York Times Monday night, Laurie Gill, the state’s secretary for the Department of Social Services said Governor Noem “wanted to do it in a way that got the attention of citizens.”

“We are looking for a way that would cause the citizens to stop, pay attention and understand that we do have a meth issue and that there are resources available.”

She added, “That was the tone going into it, looking for something that would be edgy and that would be able to cut through clutter in advertising and social media.”

“It’s sort of an irony between healthy South Dakotans, that probably very much aren’t meth users, saying ‘Meth. We’re on it.’ The point is everybody is affected by meth. You don’t have to be a user to be affected by meth. Everybody is.”

According to state records, the contract with the ad agency, signed in September, called for approximately $1.4 million to be spent on the campaign. According to Gill, the campaign was slated to run through May and the state could spend less than the total $1.4 million if it wanted to cut back on the campaign. But so far, officials are pleased with the response.

Governor Noem tweeted Monday, “the whole point of the campaign is to raise awareness. So I think that’s working.”

In a separate statement sent to media outlets, she called the initiative “a bold, innovative effort like the nation has never before seen.”

She then went on to make comments similar to her initial tweet saying, “South Dakota’s anti-meth campaign launch is sparking conversations around the state and the country. The mission of the campaign is to raise awareness — to get people talking about how they can be part of the solution and not just the problem. It is working.”

Some aren’t buying it. Professor Pearce told The Washington Post,  “There’s another trope that goes, ‘When they’re running you out of town, pick up a baton and pretend you’re leading the parade,’ ” he said. “That’s what this feels like.”

But others think the campaign is doing its job. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Fox News)

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Journalists Say Northwestern School Paper Should Not Have Apologized for Protest Coverage

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  • A Northwestern student paper apologized after activists critiqued it for covering a public protest.
  • Critics specifically focused on a reporter who tweeted photos from the protest, and other reporters using the school’s directory to contact sources.
  • Several outlets and journalists have spoken up saying student reporters should not have apologized for doing their jobs, as they were just doing what was required to cover the protest.
  • The Dean of Northwestern’s Journalism School has also defended the student reporters, saying they were following ethical standards and should not have to apologize for that.

Northwestern Paper Publishes Apology

Reporters are speaking out after a Northwestern University student newspaper apologized for how it covered a recent public protest. 

When former Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at the school’s campus on November 5, The Daily Northwestern sent reporters to cover his speech, as well as the protests surrounding it.

According to The New York Times, protesters were pushing through the back of the building. Police tried to stop them from entering but ultimately failed. This series of events was documented by one of the reporters, Colin Boyle, who is a photographer for The Daily. 

Some of the activists attending the protest disagreed with the paper’s coverage of the events, particularly the photography. Boyle posted his photos to Twitter in a move some found to be inappropriate. One student depicted in the photos referred to it as “trauma porn.”

After facing this backlash from protesters, The Daily published an editorial on Sunday largely apologizing for their coverage. 

“We recognize that we contributed to the harm students experienced, and we wanted to apologize for and address the mistakes that we made that night — along with how we plan to move forward,” the piece, signed by eight editors said. 

They also noted that some saw the photos taken to be “retraumatizing and invasive.”

“Those photos have since been taken down,” the editorial continued. “On one hand, as the paper of record for Northwestern, we want to ensure students, administrators and alumni understand the gravity of the events that took place Tuesday night. However, we decided to prioritize the trust and safety of students who were photographed.”

The piece also addressed student reporters using the student directory to contact sources for the article. They said they would no longer continue this practice because it is an “invasion of privacy” and promised to find a new way to reach out to sources. 

“Going forward, we are working on setting guidelines for source outreach, social media and covering marginalized groups,” the piece said.

Reporters Speak Out

This editorial ended up getting attention on both a local and national level. News outlets and journalists alike made comments saying that the student paper should not have published this piece because the student journalists were just doing their job.

“The Daily is apologizing for posting photographs of protesters at a public demonstration. In what world is that “invasive?” the Chicago Sun-Timeseditorial board said. “The real concern, for anybody who cares about the state of our free society, should be quite the opposite. The real concern should be the frequent efforts by government to keep journalists and protesters far apart to tamp down voices of dissent.”

They also defended students using the directory as a method to contact sources. 

“Requesting an interview, via text or any other polite means, is not an ‘invasion of privacy.’ Not even in the world of campus safe spaces,” the piece continued. “It’s a request for an interview, to which anybody can say no.”

Guy Benson, a Fox News contributor who got his degree from Northwestern spoke about the piece on a Wednesday segment of Fox and Friends. 

“It was sort of grovelingly apologetic for doing the sin of journalism,” he said. “They committed journalism by asking questions of students, contacting students for comment, publishing on the record quotes from people, and taking photographs of a public protest from a public event. And that is all just totally proper.” 

A Huffington Post news editor, Saba Hamedy, approached the situation from a sympathetic angle, calling it a learning opportunity.

Dean Responds

The Dean of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Charles Whitaker, published a statement of his own, defending the student’s right to report on the world around them and condemning others for pressuring them into apologizing for doing so.

“The coverage by The Daily Northwestern of the protests stemming from the recent appearance on campus by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in no way beyond the bounds of fair, responsible journalism,” he wrote. “I am deeply troubled by the vicious bullying and badgering that the students responsible for that coverage have endured for the ‘sin’ of doing journalism.”

“It is naïve, not to mention wrong-headed, to declare, as many of our student activists have, that The Daily staff and other student journalists had somehow violated the personal space of the protestors by reporting on the proceedings, which were conducted in the open and were designed, ostensibly, to garner attention,” he continued.

As for The Daily’s editorial itself, he called it “heartfelt, though not well-considered.” 

“I understand why The Daily editors felt the need to issue their mea culpa. They were beat into submission by the vitriol and relentless public shaming they have been subjected to since the Sessions stories appeared,” he said. “I think it is a testament to their sensitivity and sense of community responsibility that they convinced themselves that an apology would effect a measure of community healing.”

The Other Side of the Aisle

Though, not everyone thought the apology was out of line. Some did think The Daily needed to address what happened. 

One student said this showed that journalists often “don’t care about people, they care about stories and headlines.”

Reporter Karen Kho pointed out that many reporters were getting upset about this industry-related situation, but don’t speak as much about other problems in the field of journalism, “such the lack of diversity in their newsrooms, declines in public trust, or how reporting can further hurt underrepresented communities.”

Others also pointed out the school’s history when it comes to protests.

What the Students Involved Are Saying

Some of the student journalists involved in the story also spoke about the events. 

Troy Closson, the paper’s editor in chief, published a Twitter thread partially justifying the editorial but also acknowledging over-correction.

He added that balancing this role with the knowledge that the paper has historically not treated students of color well has been a challenge. Closson said he appreciates people raising their voices about their coverage and said the staff is learning to navigate the space of being student journalists. 

Boyle spoke to The Washington Post about what was going through his mind as he took photos at the protests.

“These are my peers, these are people that I might have class with,” he told the paper. “If something happened, God forbid, I was the only camera that was non-police-owned in that area, to my knowledge.”

On Twitter, he said that he has reflected a lot on what it means to be a journalist. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Chicago Tribune)

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