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Senate Democrats call on ICE to curb facial recognition and stop buying from private data brokers

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Senators Ed Markey and Ron Wyden have reacted to a report published by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology by asking the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to end what they say is Orwellian usage of technology.

In a letter addressed to ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson, the two senators say that the report recently revealed the agency has amassed data of a significant number of adults in the country by buying it from private brokers and is now using it in privacy-invasive ways through facial recognition and other mass surveillance methods.

We obtained a copy of the letter for you here.

The letter specifies that the Georgetown Law Center’s findings show ICE has deployed facial recognition technology on driver’s license photos belonging to 32% of Americans and also has data from driver’s licenses of 74% of the population.

The two Democrats further cite the report to say this is done mostly without a search warrant, while the goal of what is referred to as ICE’s dragnet surveillance is to identify persons who need to be deported but also ends up collecting data on law-abiding Americans.

The agency is also accused of using “privacy-protection gaps” and carrying out this work in a secretive manner.

The senators now want ICE to write them back by October 3, and provide answers to several questions, including revealing how the agency accesses photos and data from driver’s licenses and in which states this is being done.

ICE is also expected to describe this data and to reveal if it went ahead and got hold of it even after a state took action to prevent that. Another question is which images are used against those from driver’s licenses in the facial recognition process, and how they are obtained.

ICE is asked to explain in what other ways it employs facial recognition, which data brokers it currently buys data from and how all this is used in immigration proceedings.

“ICE should immediately shut down its Orwellian data-gathering efforts that indiscriminately collect far too much data on far too many individuals,” Markey and Wyden wrote.

Last year, both were among a number of senators who reintroduced a bill that would put a moratorium on the use of facial recognition and biometric technology by federal agencies, and another, which aims to ban the government from buying personal data rather than obtaining a warrant.

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