ICE weaponizes state-issued licenses against Maryland’s undocumented immigrants

Facial-recognition software is being used by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on driver’s licenses given to undocumented immigrants in Maryland without approval. 

ICE has been using facial recognition specifically on driver’s license photos, according to The Washington Post. What’s troubling is that a piece of 2013 legislation allows Maryland to give out special driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, and ICE is reportedly targeting these licenses specifically. ICE is conducting these searches without approval from a court or the state.

Since that state legislation passed, there have been more than 275,000 immigrant licenses issued in Maryland, which are all prone to these unauthorized facial-recognition searches. The Post reports that ICE officials logged nearly 100 sessions in Maryland’s driver’s license database since 2018. Through that database, ICE could match a person’s driver’s license photo to their name, address, and more.

The Post previously reported last year that ICE and the FBI use facial recognition on drivers’ license photos in other states including Utah, Vermont, and Washington, but the issue with Maryland is that those undocumented immigrants are given an opportunity that most other states don’t provide, but it’s now apparaently being used against them. 

Those opposed to the use of facial recognition argue that the software is inherently racist against people of color. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study from 2018 found that facial analysis software is more likely to misidentify people of color, particularly women of color.

ICE Agent
John Moore/Getty Images

The digital rights group Fight for the Future called for a complete ban on facial-recognition software last June, in part because of the technology’s alleged racial biases. 

Evan Greer, the deputy director for Fight for the Future, told Digital Trends that Maryland lawmakers should ban this type of surveillance. 

“This is a perfect example of the way that facial-recognition surveillance puts the most vulnerable members of our communities at risk. People obtained these drivers licenses because they were trying to follow the law and do the right thing. Then the government turned around and used that information to target them,” she said. “Facial recognition is the perfect technology for tyranny. Lawmakers should do their jobs and ban the use of this invasive, racially biased surveillance.”

ICE did not immediately respond to our request for comment on the Maryland licenses. We will update this story when we hear back. 

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