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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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Biden Issues Targeted Eviction Moratorium for Counties With High Community Transmission

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While more limited than the previous eviction ban, the new policy applies to all areas with “substantial” and “high” COVID transmission, which currently includes 80% of counties that compose 90% of the population.


New Eviction Ban

Three days after the federal eviction ban expired, the Biden administration issued a new, more limited moratorium that will extend until Oct. 3.

Unlike the last freeze, the latest version announced Tuesday only pertains to areas of the country experiencing what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labeled “substantial” and “high” cases of COVID-19.

However, the rule still applies to the majority of the country given the new surges driven by the delta variant.

According to the CDC, 80% of counties that make up 90% of the population are currently experiencing substantial or high community transmission. 

While not a full ban, many housing still advocates cheered the Biden administration, which has faced immense pressure to help the millions of Americans who risked losing their homes once the previous freeze expired.

“This is a tremendous relief for millions of people who were on the cusp of losing their homes and, with them, their ability to stay safe during the pandemic,” Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a statement Tuesday. 

Hurdles Remain

Still, others noted that there are outstanding issues with the new policy.

First and foremost, while the moratorium covers most Americans, it does not cover all. According to reports, there are counties in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York that are protected from evictions while neighboring counties are not.

The county-to-county patchwork also adds another layer of confusion for many people who are on the brink of eviction or who have already been evicted. 

Tenants and landlords are now scrambling to see if the freeze applies to them, and because of the temporary lapse in protection, evictions resumed in some states and cities, meaning that some people who would now be covered under the ban have already been evicted.

Perhaps the most notable obstacle is the fact that the new moratorium will almost certainly face legal challenges.

The Biden administration previously argued that it did not have the jurisdiction to extend the eviction freeze unilaterally, citing a recent decision from the Supreme Court, which ruled that the CDC could not extend the ban past July and that Congressional action was needed.

Three days before the moratorium was set to expire, Biden asked Congress to pass legislation to extend it before leaving for their August recess. Republicans blocked the effort by unanimous consent, and Democratic leaders, frustrated with the president’s last-minute demand that left them with few options, said they did not have enough support for a formal vote.

Biden, for his part, has acknowledged that any freeze that comes from his administration would face this obstacle.

“Any call for [a] moratorium based on the Supreme Court’s recent decision is likely to face obstacles,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I’ve indicated to the CDC, I’d like them to look at other alternatives [other] than the one that is in existence, which the court has declared they’re not going to allow to continue.”

Any legal proceedings, however, will take time, meaning Congress could act before any disputes are resolved. The extended timeframe would also give state and local governments more leeway to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental aid approved in the last two stimulus packages.

Only $3 billion of the funding has been distributed due to the numerous delays and hurdles municipalities have faced while struggling to create new systems to dole out the much-needed aid. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CBS News)

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Virtually All Emperor Penguins Doomed for Extinction by 2100, Study Finds

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The new study comes as the U.S. The Fish and Wildlife Service moves to submit a proposal Wednesday to add the Emperor penguin to its list of threatened species.


Concerns for Emperor Penguins

Nearly all of the world’s emperor penguin colonies may be pushed to the brink of extinction by 2100, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Global Change Biology.

More specifically, researchers behind the study said 98% of the colonies could be gone in the next 80 years if climate change continues causing sea ice to melt at its current pace. About 70% of colonies could die off by 2050, it added.

That is pretty huge news because Emperor penguins — the world’s largest penguin species —are a vital part of the Antarctic food chain. They prey on krill, squid, and small fish, and provide a source of food for leopard seals and killer whales.

However, the birds are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they depend on sea ice for viral activities like breeding, feeding, and molting, along with resting or seeking refuge from predators.

U.S. Moves To Protect the Species

The new study comes as the U.S. government considers adding the Emperor penguin to its list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to build off this new research, along with other data, for its proposal on Wednesday. Once published in the Federal Register, the proposal will be open to a 60-day public comment period.

If the classification is granted, the species would receive protections, including a ban on importations of the birds for commercial purposes.

“These penguins are hard hit by the climate crisis, and the U.S. government is finally recognizing that threat,” Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, told the Associated Press.

“Climate change, a priority challenge for this Administration, impacts a variety of species throughout the world,” said Martha Williams, principal deputy director of the wildlife service. “The decisions made by policymakers today and during the next few decades will determine the fate of the Emperor penguin.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (AP News)

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Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations

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The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.


Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter

Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.


Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.

Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.

While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.

DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools

On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.

The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.

DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.

At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.

Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)

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