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Congress Mulls Curbs on Scans of Driver’s Photos

State and federal lawmakers are calling for new rules and investigations of the use of facial-recognition scans of driver’s license databases by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other agencies, fueling a debate over the technology critics call a “massive breach of privacy and trust,” the Washington Post reports. Public records obtained by Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology showed how ICE, the FBI and other agencies had worked with states to search through millions of license photos without drivers’ knowledge or consent. The House Homeland Security Committee is expected to discuss curbs on Wednesday during the third recent congressional hearing over the largely unregulated technology, which has faced concerns over false arrests, public surveillance and government misuse.

The House Judiciary Committee has asked ICE for a briefing on its use of state license databases and will ask the FBI. The documents underscore “the urgent need for substantive federal safeguards,” said Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), who expects “action on the issue in the near future.” Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia allow federal investigators to scan driver’s license photos, and the FBI has access to more than 641 million face photos across local, state and federal databases. Some in the law enforcement and tech communities defend facial-recognition technology as too important a tool for investigators to ignore. Rep. Mike Rogers (AL) said photos should remain available to law enforcement and “should be used in our fight against terrorists, criminals and violent international cartels.” A coalition of 30 civil rights and tech advocacy groups, led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, urged the Department Homeland Security to suspend the use of facial-recognition technology on the public, saying it “poses a unique threat to constitutional rights” and is an “especially dangerous technology in need of strict limits on its use.