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Op-Ed: No, N.Y. Undocumented Immigrant Driver’s Licenses Won’t Suddenly Get Swept Up By the Feds

Donna Lieberman

Utah, Vermont, and Washington reportedly gave ICE access to their driver’s license databases and allowed ICE to scan their photos with facial recognition technology. These states allow undocumented residents to get driver’s licenses so that they and their families can function and live full lives.
It’s a fresh reminder of how dangerous facial recognition is and how easily it can be wielded by an out-of-control federal agency to frustrate state efforts to protect the safety and well-being of their residents.
These revelations come just a month after New York passed the Green Light Bill, making undocumented residents eligible to pass the tests and drive legally in New York.
New Yorkers should know: There are protections in the new law to make sure ICE can’t easily get its hands on New York’s DMV records.
New York’s Green Light law specifically prohibits disclosure of photos without a court order, judicial warrant, or specific types of subpoenas ­— even to a federal agency. ICE can’t just bully local officials into handing over the information — they need specific legal authorization.
The New York law is designed to protect confidentiality and make sure that drivers’ information is only used for the purposes for which it was collected. It requires anyone with access to DMV databases to agree not to use those records for civil immigration purposes.
These safeguards don’t eliminate all risk, but they are substantial, and they should provide a significant measure of reassurance.
But the news that ICE is now using facial recognition technology provides a terrifying example of how dangerous, ubiquitous and out of control this technology is.
A growing number of law enforcement agencies across the country now deploy facial recognition technology. This is true, despite the fact that it’s frequently inaccurate, especially when attempting to identify people of color, women and young people.
In fact, facial recognition is so unreliable that Axon, one of the leading suppliers of police body cameras, recently announced that it will no longer include facial recognition technology in its products. When the flaws are too great even for a company that stands to make millions from the technology, it should give us all pause.
So should ICE’s effort to harness it to target immigrant families.
There have been reports of negotiations between New York and the FBI to give the bureau access to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles database, which could be a backdoor to ICE gaining access. The DMV has said there are no “ongoing” negotiations between the state and FBI.
New York must act decisively to ensure that our state databases aren’t sitting targets for fishing expeditions by ICE or any other federal agency.
As menacing and relentless as ICE is, its ability to access state photo databases depends on cooperation from the states that maintain those databases. It is the responsibility of the Governor, the State DMV and every government official to follow the law and ensure that ICE cannot mine the DMV data base for New Yorkers’ personal information.
State officials hold the keys to New Yorkers’ DMV records. And state officials are under no obligation to hand them over to ICE. New York took a stand for immigrants and for safety on our roads when it passed the new driver’s license law. Our state must now stand for the safety and well-being of immigrant drivers and their families by safeguarding DMV records from the prying eyes and insatiable appetite of the ICE deportation machine.
This article originally appeared in the New York Daily News. 
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