While the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are using facial recognition software to scan driver’s license databases in various states, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post, New Mexico officials say that’s not happening here — at least not in a sweeping fashion.
Federal enforcement agencies do ask the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division to see if specific photographs match any images stored in the licensing agency’s computers, but the state does not knowingly allow outside agencies to mine the state’s files, a spokesman said.
“No outside agency has direct access to our database,” said Charlie Moore of the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, which includes the MVD.
Moore said the state does “honor requests for information on specific individuals from law enforcement agencies, and that would include the FBI and ICE.”
Millions of Americans’ photos have been scanned without their knowledge or consent, the Post reported, turning state licensing databases into part of an unprecedented surveillance infrastructure that goes beyond the established practice of sharing fingerprints, DNA and other evidence taken from criminal suspects.
The federal use of facial-recognition software reportedly includes deportation authorities combing through images stored by at least a few states that, like New Mexico, offer IDs to undocumented immigrants.
However, Moore emphasized that in New Mexico, “We don’t give anybody direct access.”
A host of law enforcement agencies submit so-called probe photos for any number of reasons, he said, and ask MVD if it can come up with a match using facial-recognition software it has had for more than a decade.
“If we get a match or a possible match, the agent who runs it takes a look at it,” Moore said. “If it looks like yes, that is a possible match, it then gets reviewed by two other sets of eyes here … before we turn it over to the requesting agency.”
Moore said the division receives about one request a week.
“They had one recently on a John or a Jane Doe, a body sitting in a morgue that they had no ID on, and so they took a photo, sent us the probe photo, and we ran it through the system,” he said, adding he couldn’t remember whether the search produced a match.
The Post report on federal agents using facial-recognition software on driver’s license databases comes as ICE agents reportedly plan to begin raids in 10 U.S. cities to arrest thousands of people living in the country illegally.
ICE spokesman Matthew Bourke told CNN the department doesn’t comment on investigation techniques but 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,” Bourke told CNN in a statement.
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.