What States Do To Protect Undocumented Immigrants’ Driver’s License Information

Many states restrict the federal government’s access to identification databases, but privacy protections depend on where you live.

As President Donald Trump prepares for another crackdown on immigrants this weekend, many undocumented people have another reason to fear: Deportation authorities have combed through driver’s license information in at least three states that offer IDs to undocumented immigrants, according to newly released documents obtained by The Washington Post, and they could be doing the same thing elsewhere.

Federal enforcement agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, can identify their targets by digging through Department of Motor Vehicles records for photos and other data, The Washington Post reported Sunday. Records show that ICE and FBI officials searched through identification information of licensed residents in Utah, Vermont and Washington.

That means private information that undocumented people shared to make themselves and their communities safer may be used by authorities to locate and detain them instead. So what does this mean for the undocumented immigrants who already turned their information over to state and local authorities to get driver’s licenses?

Undocumented immigrants can obtain driver’s licenses in 13 states and Washington, D.C. But privacy protection for their information varies from state to state. Twenty-one states share driver’s licenses and ID photos with the FBI’s facial recognition service, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report published in May. Seven of them, along with Washington, D.C., provide driver’s licenses for undocumented people. Only one state bans facial recognition technology entirely. Three states have no contract with the FBI, and three others are in the process of negotiation.

ICE declined to comment on its investigative techniques or tools, but a representative told HuffPost in a statement that collaborating with state and local agencies when completing a case is “an established procedure” consistent with other law enforcement agencies.

The widespread use of facial recognition technology has raised questions about privacy as well as the potential for false arrests, particularly for people of color who are often misidentified by the systems. As of May, there were more than 641 million photos in the FBI’s database. When the bureau uses photos from local offices like the DMV, the federal government is often bypassing residents’ abilities to consent to sharing their information.

Half of all American adults are in a law enforcement facial recognition network, according to a 2016 study by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology. The study also found that at least 26 states allowed law enforcement to run or request searches against their databases of driver’s licenses and ID photos. That means you may be in a federal database without even knowing it.

Here’s how each state that offers driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants handles its DMV data:

Facial Recognition Prohibited


Washington is the only state that issues undocumented driver’s licenses where facial recognition technology is prohibited.

No information is released for requests about immigration status unless compelled by a court order. That requirement was established in 2018 after the The Seattle Times reported that the Department of Licensing was handing over personal information to federal enforcement agencies. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee ordered that all future requests from federal immigration officers must be directed to and reviewed by his general counsel.

Joy Buolamwini, a facial recognition researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has found racial and gender bias in facial analysis tools. The technology has a hard time recognizing certain faces, especially darker-skinned women. In the photo, Buolamwini holds up a white mask she had to use so that the software could detect her face.
Joy Buolamwini, a facial recognition researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has found racial and gender bias in facial analysis tools. The technology has a hard time recognizing certain faces, especially darker-skinned women. In the photo, Buolamwini holds up a white mask she had to use so that the software could detect her face.
AP Photo/Steven Senne

No Contract For Sharing Information With The FBI


California does not have an arrangement to share information with the federal government, and it does not use facial recognition technology. The system isn’t banned like it is in Washington, but the state does not engage with law enforcement for the use of facial recognition. California will provide law enforcement with DMV information like photos and addresses, but not any identifiers of legal status.

Law enforcement agencies can use DMV records after they have applied for a “requestor code” that would give them access. California “takes the protection of personal information for all driver license and identification cardholders very seriously,” Marty Greenstein, a public information officer for the DMV, told HuffPost in an email.


Although Hawaii has a statewide facial recognition database, driver’s license and ID card photos are prohibited from being included in the system. The state does not share DMV information with the FBI or other federal enforcement agencies.


Vermont used to share DMV information with federal authorities, but that policy ended due to accusations of civil rights violations. Records obtained by The Washington Post show that Vermont officials ran a number of face scans on driver’s license photos at the request of ICE agents up until May 2017, when Republican Gov. Phil Scott halted the program.

It drew Scott’s attention when the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union brought up and later filed a lawsuit in 2018, alleging that the DMV provided ICE with data to target and detain at least 20 undocumented activists from an organization called Migrant Justice.

Enrique Balcazar, a Migrant Justice activist who was arrested because of DMV information provided to ICE, said the group is using a federal lawsuit to ensure that the law is enforced fairly and their privacy is protected. “Immigrant communities in this country have been criminalized and persecuted for decades, so this is nothing new,” Balcazar said.

“Immigrant communities in this country have been criminalized and persecuted for decades, so this is nothing new.”

- Enrique Balcazar, Migrant Justice Activist

Negotiations Underway With FBI


Connecticut is negotiating information sharing with the FBI’s FACE database, according to the Government Accountability Office. COLLECT, a statewide police database, includes DMV information that ICE requested to use. In 2017, The Verge reported on a published disclosure about the deal ICE wanted make with Connecticut because it was imperative to their deportation efforts. “[W]ithout access to the system, ICE officers will not be able to locate and track illegal aliens,” the document said.

The ACLU of Connecticut called for a statewide law to reduce police surveillance in March. The call followed the release of records that showed eight Connecticut agencies were complying with ICE. The proposed legislation would have included democratic control over and transparency about information-sharing agreements with federal agencies, Meghan Holden, the communications director for ACLU Connecticut, told HuffPost. However, the bill did not make it through the legislature.


Federal law enforcement agencies can request limited access to Nevada’s DMV records for non-immigration cases, such as a criminal investigations. The state does use facial recognition technology, but it only conducts searches for matches on a case-by-case basis, according to Kevin Malone, a public information officer for the Nevada DMV.

The DMV is prohibited from releasing information regarding a resident’s immigration status. “Additionally, the DMV database does not contain any indicator of citizenship or immigration status,” Malone said in a statement to HuffPost. “The fact that a person holds a Driver Authorization Card does not indicate their status as all residents are eligible for [one].”

However, those promises are not reassuring to Wesley Juhl, the communications manager for ACLU’s Nevada chapter. “There needs to be restrictions on facial recognition technology, period,” Juhl told HuffPost.

New York

New York lawmakers anticipated that ICE would try to use the DMV’s data, so they made privacy protections a central part of the Green Light bill, a bill passed in June that allows undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses.

Under the new law, federal agencies cannot access DMV information without a judicial warrant. And after they have been given the information, the DMV is required to notify the person they are seeking information about within three days.

“As we developed and reviewed this legislation with partner organizations and elected officials, we ensured that it contained strong safeguards against precisely the type of rogue behavior and rights violations for which ICE is infamous,” said Javier H. Valdés, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, an immigrant rights organization.

State Sen. Luis Sepúlveda (D), the main Senate sponsor of the bill, said he is sure New York has the strongest privacy protections in the country for undocumented immigrants. But he is still concerned about the use of facial recognition technology. To him, it represents a national issue that tramples on American privacy rights. “We should be shocked, and we should be vigilant for ourselves, not just undocumented immigrants,” Sepúlveda told HuffPost.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) listens during a hearing on facial recognition technology for the House oversight and reform committee on June 4.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) listens during a hearing on facial recognition technology for the House oversight and reform committee on June 4.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Shares Driver’s Licenses And ID Photos Only


“The Colorado DMV may provide information to criminal justice agencies on a case-by-case basis,” Derek Kuhn, a communications specialist for the Colorado Department of Revenue, told HuffPost. The DMV does not grant wholesale access to any of its systems, nor does its database include information about immigration status. “We value Coloradans rights to privacy and work diligently to protect their sensitive personal information, Kuhn told HuffPost via email.

The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition has worked on immigrant driver’s license bills and has been in contact with the Colorado DMV about possible privacy issues with traffic cameras. Despite what the law says, activists there still have concerns about government surveillance.

“If you have a criminal record or an order of deportation, we urge you to refrain from getting a marked license and instead talk to your lawyer about your situation,” said Cristian Solano-Córdova, the organization’s communications manager.


Delaware does share driver’s licenses and ID photos with the FBI, but the law requires that all personal information collected during the license application process are kept confidential.

“Driving privilege cards” are issued to Delaware residents who can show identification and proof that they either filed state income taxes for the past two years or are a dependent of someone who did. All applicants must submit fingerprints when applying for a card to be run through criminal databases, including that of the FBI.


Illinois will cooperate with federal enforcement agencies only if requested information is for a criminal investigation that is unrelated to a person’s immigration status, according to Dave Druker, a spokesman for the Illinois secretary of state’s office. The state uses facial recognition technology, but only for internal purposes, he said.

Undocumented drivers should have the same benefits as other drivers under the Illinois Drivers Privacy Protection Act. “It’s not good enough to just say, ‘We don’t think they’re citizens.’ That doesn’t wash,” Druker said.

New Mexico

Regardless of immigration status, New Mexico residents can apply for a license with an individual tax identification number or other designated document instead of a social security number.

However, the law indicates that the state’s Motor Vehicles Department will release personal information to any governmental agency, including any court, or to any private person acting on behalf of the government. “No outside agency has direct access to our database,” Charlie Moore, a public information officer for the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, said. Instead, a formal request must be submitted before any information is shared.

“We should be shocked, and we should be vigilant for ourselves, not just undocumented immigrants.”

- State Sen. Luis Sepúlveda (D-N.Y.)

Provides The FBI With Driver’s Licenses, IDs, Mugshots And Corrections Photos

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. provides the FBI’s FACE program with a much wider range of identification information, according to the Government Accountability Office’s report. However, the law states that the driving permits may not be used “to consider an individual’s citizenship or immigration status, or as a basis for a criminal investigation, arrest, or detention.” Like several other states, information related to legal presence won’t be disclosed to any federal, state or local government entity without a warrant or subpoena.


“Qualified law enforcement agencies do have access to [Motor Vehicle Administration] records, which includes an individual’s photo on file through the Maryland Image Repository System,” Adrienne Diaczok, the director of external affairs at the state’s Department of Transportation, said in a statement to the HuffPost.

Maryland law requires that local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have access to the state’s driver’s license or identification cardholder information. “We take data security and the privacy of your personal information very seriously,” the MVA website states.


Of the more than 1,000 federal facial recognition searches in Utah, The Washington Post found that between 2015 and 2017, only 49 of those requests came from ICE, and the majority of searches came back negative, said Marissa Cote, the public affairs director at Utah Department of Public Safety.

ICE does not have access to Utah’s facial recognition or driver’s license databases, Cote said. Information will only be provided to federal enforcement agencies if the request is related to a criminal investigation. “We’re not sending batches of information for no reason. It is specific people with a specific case number tied to a criminal investigation,” she said.

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