Democratic senators call on ICE to stop use of ‘Orwellian’ facial recognition, surveillance

Two Democratic senators called on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to discontinue its use of facial recognition and other surveillance technologies that they say threaten individual privacy rights. 

Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent a letter to ICE acting Director Tae Johnson on Monday pointing to a Georgetown University report that detailed that ICE has used facial recognition and bought information from data brokers to build a “dragnet security system” to help carry out deportation proceedings. 

The senators said these secretive methods have allowed ICE to obtain data about most people living in the United States.

“This surveillance network has exploited privacy-protection gaps and has enormous civil rights implications,” Markey and Wyden said. “ICE should immediately shut down its Orwellian data gathering efforts that indiscriminately collect far too much data on far too many individuals.” 

The senators noted the report from the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology concluded that ICE acts as a “domestic surveillance agency.” 

The report found that the agency has used facial recognition technology on driver’s license photos on almost a third of adults in the U.S. and has access to driver’s license data on almost three-quarters of them — much of which has occurred without ICE obtaining a search warrant.

The report also found that ICE has used databases from private data brokers and state and local bureaucracies to gain access to information like call, child welfare, employment and health care records and social media posts. 

Markey and Wyden said The Intercept found that ICE searched one database more than 1 million times during a seven-month period last year looking for individuals’ location, work history and family relationships. They said documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union showed that ICE worked with one data broker to access location data on about 250 million devices. 

And they said ICE does not regularly report on information like how many driver’s license images it accesses or how it uses its analysis in immigration proceedings. 

The senators asked a series of questions for the acting director to answer by Oct. 3. The questions include how ICE accesses driver’s license data, to what images ICE compares the facial recognition data it receives and how the agency uses facial recognition technologies beyond driver’s licenses. 

ICE did not immediately return a request from The Hill for comment.

Tags Ed Markey Ed Markey facial recognition facial recognition ICE Immigration and Customs Enforcement Immigration and Customs Enforcement privacy rights Ron Wyden Ron Wyden surveillance Tae Johnson

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