The Washington Post and New York Times recently ran stories concerning the use of facial technology to identify persons via the state driver’s license databases. Washington State’s Department of Licensing has issued a press release, basically suggesting this is, dare I say, fake news. Here is what the Department of Licensing says:
July 8, 2019 For Immediate Release.
News Reports – ICE and the FBI using facial recognition technology to scan state driver’s license databases.
Statement from Department of Licensing Director Teresa Berntsen:
“National news reports about federal law enforcement and immigration officials’ use of state facial recognition databases has led to a high level of misunderstanding and confusion about how our state Department of Licensing protects this data. Our DOL has implemented strict standards to ensure data is not released to any law enforcement entity for immigration purposes or without a judicial court order or subpoena. There is no external access to the Facial Recognition System. System access is limited to very few specially trained DOL staff. We take very seriously our responsibility to protect the data and information of all Washingtonians.”
The Washington Post reported ICE and the FBI using facial recognition technology to scan state driver’s license databases, including photos of legal residents and citizens. The Department of Licensing does not provide access to our Facial Recognition System to local, state, or federal law enforcement entities. They must provide the agency with a court order signed by a judge.
The New York Times states “agents authorized administrative subpoenas of the Department of Licensing to conduct a facial recognition scan of all photos of license applicants, though it was unclear whether the state carried out the searches.” The agency received 53 requests through court order or subpoena since 2013. Thirteen of those were federal requests. None have been received from 2017 to present. The remaining 40 were from local and state law enforcement entities.
Federal requests include:
One – U.S. Department of Justice
Two – Federal Bureau of Investigation
Four – Department of Homeland Security/Immigrations and Customs Enforcement
Six – U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
If a match was found through any request during this time, DOL would provide limited identity information.
DOL’s Use of Facial Recognition Technology
KUOW ran the headline “ICE uses Washington driver’s licenses to hunt immigrants for deportation, researchers say.” This is incorrect. No entity has access to DOL’s facial recognition system. They would provide a photo and DOL would conduct the research.
Law enforcement entities have no access to “mine” DOL’s state driver’s license databases using facial recognition technology.
As of January 2018, all requests must be court ordered.
DOL’s Facial Recognition Process
After receiving a court-ordered subpoena, DOL performs a search by comparing the photo provided by a law enforcement entity with DOL’s database. If a match occurs between the photo provided by the entity with a photo in DOL’s database, DOL provides the individual’s first, middle, and last name, date of birth, and ID or driver license number.
The Department of Licensing does the research. There is no direct external access to the facial recognition system. System access is limited to very few specially trained DOL staff.
Immigration and Citizenship Status
The Department of Licensing does not collect information regarding a person’s immigration or citizenship status.
The Department of Licensing does not collect place of birth.
The Department of Licensing does not provide Social Security numbers.
Governor’s Executive Orders
The Department of Licensing is committed to following the Governor’s Executive Order 17-01 Reaffirming Washington’s commitment to Tolerance, Diversity and inclusiveness.
We fully comply with Executive Order 16-01, Privacy Protection and Transparency in State Government. We only collect information that is necessary to perform our agency duties to establish identification and driving privileges.