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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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Soldier Charged With Assault After Shoving Black Man in Viral Video

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  • Authorities charged Army soldier Jonathan Pentland with third-degree assault and battery on Wednesday after a viral video showed him shoving a Black man while yelling at him to leave a South Carolina neighborhood.
  • Many people, including dozens who protested outside Pentland’s home this week, condemned the confrontation as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”
  • Pentland and others claimed the unidentified man was picking a fight with neighbors, which the man denied, but police said nothing that may have happened earlier justified Pentland’s actions.
  • If convicted, Pentland faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

Viral Video

A U.S. soldier was charged with assault on Wednesday after a video that circulated online showed him yelling at and shoving a Black man in a South Carolina neighborhood.

Footage of the April 8 incident was posted to social media Monday. It shows the Army soldier, Jonathan Pentland, confronting the unidentified man and telling him to leave the neighborhood. 

The other man explains that he’s just walking through the area and doing nothing wrong, but Pentland becomes increasingly aggressive. “You better walk away,” he shouts at the man after shoving him.

“You either walk away, or I’m gonna carry your ass out of here,” he continues before adding, “You’re in the wrong neighborhood motherf*ker. Get out!”

The man then tries to tell Pentland that he lives in the neighborhood, and Pentland then asks for his address, which he does not give.

The confrontation continues with Pentland cursing and getting in the man’s face. As he does so, the man says that Pentland smells drunk. 

It’s unclear what exactly led up to the confrontation, but in the video, a woman off-camera says the man “picked a fight with some random young lady that’s one of our neighbors.”

“I don’t even know who she is. Nobody picked a fight when someone ran up on me,” the man replies. Another woman off-screen then encourages the man to leave with her, saying, “What’s your name? Come on. You don’t want no trouble.”

Video Triggers Protests Outside Pentland’s Home

After this video spread online, many social media users condemned it as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”

In fact, protesters even began demonstrating outside of Penland’s home. Those protests started off peaceful, but deputies were then called after 8 p.m. because unknown individuals vandalized the house. That forced police to shut down access to the area and remove Pentland’s family to another location.

As far as the viral video, deputies were told that the man approached “several neighbors in a threatening manner” and that someone had asked Pentland to “intervene.”

Police did confirm that there are two reports of alleged assault against the unnamed man Pentland shoved that are being investigated. However, they also added that the man has “an underlying medical condition that may explain the behavior exhibited in the alleged incidents.”

Pentland Charged

Either way, police said whatever happened earlier did not justify Pentland’s actions. He was ultimately arrested Wednesday morning and was charged with third-degree assault and battery. He faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail if convicted.

“We’re not going to let people be bullies in our community,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said at a news conference Wednesday. “And if you are, you’re going to answer for it, and that’s what we’ve done in this case.”

On top of that, the Justice Department reportedly was investigating. Pentland’s Commanding General even issued a statement condemning his behavior, adding that Pentland “brought disrespect to @fortjackson our Army and the trust with the public we serve.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC News) (Huffpost)

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Texas Students Created Snapchat Group To ‘Slave Trade’ Black Classmates

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  • Freshmen at a Texas high school set up a Snapchat group to pretend to sell their Black classmates. 
  • A screenshot showed the group name being changed from “Slave Trade” with emojis of a Black man, a gun, and a white police officer to “[racial slur] Farm” and then “[racial slur] Auction.”
  • That image also shows a person saying they would spend $100 on a peer while a second student said they would spend $1 on another, adding “would be better if his hair wasn’t so bad.”
  • The school faced backlash for initially describing it as “an incident of cyberbullying and harassment,” without acknowledging the racism. The district later issued a stronger condemnation and said the students were disciplined but did not list specific consequences.

Racist Snapchat Group

Aledo high school students at Daniel Ninth Grade Campus in Northern Texas are making headlines for setting up a Snapchat group to pretend to sell their Black classmates. 

A screenshot reviewed by several local news outlets showed the group name being changed from “Slave Trade” with emojis of a Black man, a gun, and a white police officer to “[racial slur] Farm” and then “[racial slur] Auction.”

That image also shows a person saying they would spend $100 on a peer. A second student said they would spend $1 on another, adding “would be better if his hair wasn’t so bad.”

Screenshot of group chat message via KXAS

At least one student who was mentioned as being “sold” in the chats was later sent screenshots of the conversations.

According to a report from the Star-Telegram reported last week, when the issue was brought to Principal Carolyn Ansley, she sent parents an email that didn’t mention the Snapchat group but only cited “an incident of cyberbullying and harassment.”

That caused frustrations because parents felt the issue of racism wasn’t being addressed or acknowledged.

Mark Grubbs, a father of three former students, told KXAS he was sickened by the students’ actions. Grubbs, who is Black, also said he had taken his children out of the district over other racist incidents in the past.

“My son being called out of his name and what not and it got to the point he didn’t mind fighting and that didn’t sit right with me and my wife. My son was never a fighter,” he said.

District Responds

After the incident garnered media attention, the Aledo Independent School District issued a statement.

The district said it learned of the incident more than two weeks ago and started an investigation that involved law enforcement.

“There is no room for racism or hatred in the Aledo ISD, period,” it added. “Using inappropriate, offensive and racially charged language and conduct is completely unacceptable and is prohibited by district policy.”

District officials spoke with the students responsible as well as their parents, saying they “made it clear that statements and conduct that targets a student because of his or her race is not only prohibited but also has a profound impact on the victims.”

The district also said it assigned disciplinary consequences, though it did not explicitly state what those consequences were or state how many students were involved.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC) (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

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What You Need To Know About the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Pause

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  • The CDC and the FDA have issued a joint recommendation to pause distribution of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine amid reports that six women experienced “extremely rare” blood clots after receiving the single-dose shot.
  • The vast majority of the 6.8 million Americans who were given the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have reported minor to no side effects, and no direct link has been established between the vaccine and blood clots at this time. 
  • The two agencies are expected to release updated guidance in the coming days.
  • Several states and cities are now automatically giving the two-dose Pfizer vaccine to people who were scheduled to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week. 

CDC and FDA Recommend J&J Vaccine Halt

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, released a statement Tuesday recommending a pause on the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.

So far, 6.8 million people in the U.S. have been vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, most with zero or only mild side effects.

The updated guidance comes after six women, all between the ages of 18 to 48, experienced what both agencies described as “extremely rare” blood clots six to 13 days after being vaccinated. One of those women has died and another is in critical condition.

Neither the CDC nor the FDA has confirmed that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the cause of these blood clots; rather, they said this guidance comes “out of an abundance of caution.”

That’s also in line with Johnson & Johnson itself, which said it’s aware of the reports but added that “no clear causal relationship has been established between these rare events.” As a precaution, Johnson & Johnson has also now delayed the rollout of its vaccine in Europe. 

What Happens From Here?

Principal Deputy Director of the CDC Anne Schuchat said further recommendations will come quickly.

FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock echoed that statement, saying, “We expect it to be a matter of days for this pause.”

Wednesday, a CDC committee will convene to discuss the cases and assess their potential significance.

When asked if the government was overreacting to just six cases out of nearly 7 million vaccinations (a criticism made by some online), Schuchat said the CDC pulled its recommendation specifically because the type of blood clots seen in these 6 women requires special treatment, so “it was of the utmost importance to us to get the word out.”

In the meantime, both agencies are urging Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients to contact their doctors if they experience any combination of severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath. 

What If I Had A J&J Appointment?

Both agencies, as well as other health officials, are still urging unvaccinated people to take the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines when available in their area.

The White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator has said that 28 million doses of those vaccines will be made available this week. Notably, that’s more than enough for the country to continue giving 3 million shots a day. 

If you had an appointment scheduled to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you’re likely not completely out of luck.

For example, while D.C. vaccination sites are canceling all Johnson & Johnson appointments between Tuesday and this Saturday, the health department there has said it’ll send out invitations on Wednesday to reschedule.

Similar situations were reported in Virginia and Maryland, though some vaccination sites in Maryland are still honoring existing appointments by automatically giving people Pfizer instead. That’s also a process that is now being conducted in places like New York State and Memphis.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (NBC News) (The Washington Post)

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