The Georgetown researchers’ documents covered 2014 to 2017, and it was not immediately clear if those states still comply with the ICE requests. Representatives for the states’ motor vehicles departments could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday night.
Matt Bourke, an ICE spokesman, said the agency would not comment on “investigative techniques, tactics or tools” because of “law-enforcement sensitivities.”
But he added: “During the course of an investigation, ICE has the ability to collaborate with external local, federal and international agencies to obtain information that may assist in case completion and subsequent prosecution. This is an established procedure that is consistent with other law enforcement agencies.”
The researchers sent public records requests to each state, searching for documents related to law enforcement’s relationship with state motor vehicles departments. They received varying degrees of responsiveness but discovered the ICE requests in Utah, Washington and Vermont, which have come under fire before for sharing driver’s license information with the agency.
The Seattle Times reported last year that Washington State’s Department of Licensing turned over undocumented immigrants’ driver’s license applications to ICE officials, a practice its governor, Jay Inslee, pledged to stop. And a lawsuit in Vermont filed by an activist group cited documents obtained under public records law that showed that the state Department of Motor Vehicles forwarded names, photos, car registrations and other information on migrant workers to ICE, Vermont Public Radio reported this year.
The relationship between Washington’s Department of Licensing and ICE officials may prove to be particularly interesting to privacy experts because of a law the State Legislature passed in 2012 stipulating that the department could use a facial recognition matching system for driver’s licenses only when authorized by a court order, something ICE did not provide.
Facial recognition technology has faced criticism from experts who point to studies that show that recognition algorithms are more likely to misidentify people of color — and in particular, women of color. At least 25 prominent artificial-intelligence researchers, including experts at Google, Facebook and Microsoft, signed a letter in April calling on Amazon to stop selling its facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies because it is biased against women and racial minorities.