March, 2020

ICE Searches Millions of Driver’s
License Photos in Maryland Database

State officials in Maryland, one of about fifteen states that grant special driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, and which has issued about 275,000 of the licenses since 2013, has permitted ICE, within the last two years, to run almost 100 warrantless facial-recognition searches in the state’s databases. In several other states where ICE has searched similar databases, there is a requirement that a state official actually conduct a requested search; in Maryland, however, ICE personnel can search the databases – including the Motor Vehicle Administration database – on their own. It was reported that the arrangement between ICE and Maryland state officials may go as far back as 2012.

An ICE spokesperson stated that the searches are not used for routine immigration matters but are used primarily for child exploitation and cybercrime investigations. Lydia Walther-Rodriguez, the Baltimore area director for CASA, an immigration-rights group, was quoted as saying that her group suspects that ICE raids and detentions stemmed from recently–issued driver’s licenses. 

Hearings are underway in the Maryland General Assembly to decide whether warrants should be required for searches. However, some are concerned of negative pushback from federal authorities if ICE access is limited.

Harrison Rudolph, a senior associate at the Georgetown University law school's Center on Privacy and Technology, was quoted as saying, “It’s a bait-and-switch. . . . ICE is using biometric information in the shadows, without government notice or public approval, to hunt down the most vulnerable people. . . . If you’re a U.S. citizen and thinking ICE facial-recognition searches don’t affect you, you’re wrong. . . . With face recognition, the question is not whether you are an immigrant but whether an error-prone technology thinks you look like an immigrant.”

Sources:  Drew Harwell and Erin Cox, of The Washington Post, “ICE has run facial-recognition searches on millions of Maryland drivers,”, February 26, 2020:

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor