How does ICE immigration work

How the US authorities hunt down the faces of America's paperless people

The immigration police ICE scoured driver license databases of the member states using facial recognition. She also uses the driver's license photos stored millions of times to find illegal immigrants.

In their search for paperless migrants, the American immigration police (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE) have opened up a new treasure trove of data for themselves: the photo databases of the state driving license authorities. This is supported by data requested by the Center on Privacy and Technology - a think tank that belongs to the law school of Georgetown University. According to these, the ICE has been working together with the national driving license authorities in the search for illegal immigrants since 2014.

"It's a scandal"

The issuing of driving licenses - probably the most important identification document in the USA, which is also recognized on flights - is the responsibility of the member states. More than a dozen of them also issue driving permits to paperless migrants. In at least two of these states, Vermont and Utah, officers searched the databases for photos of Sans-Papiers at the request of the ICE; In a third state, Washington, at least such requests were made to them. In some cases, judges had approved the searches of the databases, in other cases ICE officials had only asked the driving license authorities for help via email and attached photos of the relevant people. The state officials then searched their own databases with the help of facial recognition software and provided the federal officials with more detailed information on all persons who looked similar to those sought.

This violated state law, said the data protection expert Harrison Rudolph, who belongs to the Center for Privacy and Technology, to the "New York Times". There are no laws in any state that would allow the immigration police to use the vehicle authorities' photo databases in this way. "It's a scandal." In addition, the procedure against the Sans-Papiers is unfair because they are lured into divulging their data - only to then pass them on to the ICE.

FBI also uses photos

It was not previously known that the immigration police searched the databases of the vehicle authorities on a large scale; however, other law enforcement agencies have been accessing this treasure trove of data for years, as a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, an oversight body of Congress, showed. More than two dozen member states generally allow the federal authorities access to their databases with photos. The Federal Police FBI, for example, can access more than 641 million photos in this way; According to the report, it has done this more than 390,000 times since 2011 to identify suspects, but also potential witnesses and victims.

Privacy advocates criticize that facial recognition technology is still underdeveloped and can produce false positive results, especially when it comes to identifying black women. The Federal Police counter this by stating that their own software is 86 percent correct in cases in which there are 50 possible hits. How accurate the system is when there are fewer hits is not known. The FBI also points out that the hits generated in this way are only one piece of the puzzle to track down possible suspects; Officials were instructed to find hard evidence before arresting anyone.

The use of facial recognition software is currently the subject of heated debate in the United States; some cities like San Francisco and Somerville have banned this method from law enforcement. The main criticism is Amazon's software, Recognition, which the company is eagerly selling to local authorities. In April, 25 leading scientists in the field of artificial intelligence asked Amazon in an open letter to stop selling because the software was so prone to errors. The House of Representatives has also been holding hearings for months on the use of facial recognition software by authorities and is planning another on Wednesday.