U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have been permitted to run facial-recognition searches on millions of Maryland driver’s license photos without first seeking state or court approval, the Washington Post reports. The access goes far beyond what other states allow and that alarms immigration activists in a state that grants special driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. More than 275,000 such licenses have been issued since 2013, when the state became the first on the East Coast to defy federal guidelines and allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a license without having to provide proof of legal status. The technology under scrutiny could let an ICE official run a photograph of an unknown person through the system and see if any potentially undocumented immigrants are returned as a match. “It’s a betrayal of immigrants’ trust for the [state] to turn around and let ICE run warrantless searches on their faces,” said Harrison Rudolph of Georgetown University Law School’s Center on Privacy and Technology. “It’s a bait-and-switch. … ICE is using biometric information in the shadows, without government notice or public approval, to hunt down the most vulnerable people.”
A top Maryland law enforcement official told state lawmakers that ICE officials had logged nearly 100 sessions in the state’s driver’s license database since 2018. Each session could have included many searches of the Maryland Image Repository System database, which includes the photos, names, addresses and other personal information of approximately 7 million drivers statewide. The battle to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants spanned more than a decade in Maryland. In 2013, Maryland lawmakers voted to create the licenses despite federal laws requiring proof of immigration status on state-issued identification cards, after arguments from advocates that the change would boost road safety by requiring driver-safety tests and insurance coverage.