- 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 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.
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.
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)
SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section
- The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June.
- The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
- Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary.
- It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.
College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay
College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.
Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”
The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary.
While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S.
Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.
With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.
The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test
In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.
In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.
According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.
For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)
Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban
- President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.
- Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
- The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions.
Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban
President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.
That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.
Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”
It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead.
Biden To Block Trump’s Order
Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.
“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.
“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.
With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect.
It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.
Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.
See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (CNN)
New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns
- The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
- The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
- The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.
CDC Issues Warning
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus.
The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.
Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.
Mitigating Spread of Variant
“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”
The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.
“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.
“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”