America’s FBI and its Customs Enforcement agency “have turned state driver license databases into a facial-recognition gold mine, scanning through hundreds of millions of Americans’ photos without their knowledge or consent,” reports the Washington Post.
They cite thousands of newly-released facial-recognition requests, internal documents, and emails from the last five years, revealed after a public-records request from researchers at Georgetown University, saying state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) databases have been transformed into “the bedrock of an unprecedented surveillance infrastructure.”
Police have long had access to fingerprints, DNA and other “biometric data” taken from criminal suspects. But the DMV records contain the photos of the majority of a state’s residents, most of whom have never been charged with a crime. Neither Congress nor state legislatures have authorized the development of such a system, and growing numbers of Democratic and Republican lawmakers are criticizing the technology as a dangerous, pervasive and error-prone surveillance tool…
Since 2011, the FBI has logged more than 390,000 facial-recognition searches of federal and local databases, including state DMV databases, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said last month, and the records show that federal investigators have forged daily working relationships with DMV officials… They detailed the regular use of facial recognition to track down suspects in low-level crimes, including cashing a stolen check and petty theft. And searches are often executed with nothing more formal than an email from a federal agent to a local contact, the records show…
The FBI’s facial-recognition search has access to local, state and federal databases containing more than 641 million face photos, a GAO director said last month… The search capability was offered not just to help identify criminal suspects, but also to detect possible witnesses, victims, bodies, and innocent bystanders and other people not charged with crimes.
The Post concludes that the newly-released documents “show that the technology already is tightly woven into the fabric of modern law enforcement.”
A senior counsel at the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight tells their reporter that “It’s really a surveillance-first, ask-permission-later system. People think this is something coming way off in the future, but these (facial-recognition) searches are happening very frequently today.”