The Massachusetts ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Dept. of Transportation (MassDOT) Wednesday, alleging that the sharing of the RMV’s database of state-issued ID photographs to government agencies like the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit alleges that the sharing of the RMV’s photograph database, combined with government use of facial recognition technology, “enables governments to track and identify their residents… [because of] those residents doing nothing more than obtaining a driver’s license or photo ID through the [RMV].”
The MassDOT has been sharing its database of photographs from state-issued IDs to government agencies for the past 13 years. The Mass ACLU alleges that this unregulated practice violates First and Fourth Amendment freedoms, including the right to “maintain a legitimate expectation of privacy.”
“We’re asking the state legislature to pass a moratorium to stop all government use of this technology in Massachusetts until we can have a conversation and pass some standards and regulations to ensure that there are checks and balances in place and that people’s rights aren’t being violated,” said Kade Crockford, the program director of the ACLU’s Technology for Liberty Project.
The lawsuit comes after the ACLU sent two public records requests, one in February and one in April, asking the RMV for more transparency around the process of collecting and sharing the database. According to the lawsuit, the MassDOT did not respond to either request.
MassDOT spokesperson Judi Riley said in a statement that the MassDOT has not yet received the lawsuit and will not comment on pending litigation.
“The RMV cooperates with law enforcement on specific case by case queries related to criminal investigations, but does not provide system access to federal authorities and is not negotiating to do so,” the statement reads. Riley did not confirm whether or not MassDOT received the public records requests from the ACLU.
Legislation sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. David Rogers that would place a temporary hold on the government’s use of facial recognition while regulation is established is currently pending in the State House.
Wednesday’s lawsuit is part of a campaign launched by the ACLU last month called “Press Pause on Face Surveillance,” which aims to build awareness around face recognition technology.
“We have significant concerns that people’s safety may be in jeopardy as a result of the unregulated use of this technology,” Crockford said. “We have no guarantees that this system is not being abused. … It’s possible that a law enforcement official could find a picture of somebody on Instagram they think is cute and send that image to the RMV and ask for the RMV to give them that person’s name and address. We just have no idea.”
In May, a group of Democrats and Republican congressional lawmakers condemned facial recognition technologyas “invasive and inaccurate,” and a potential danger to civil rights. Around the same time, a review by Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology found that police have been found to abuse the systems, altering search results and contributing to false identification and false arrest.
In response to Amazon’s push last year to sell its facial recognition technology to state governments, eight lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Ed Markey from Massachusetts, accused the technology of exhibiting racial bias and limiting freedom of expression.
In April, Brown University student and Muslim activist Amara Majeed was falsely identified as one of the Easter bombing terrorists by Sri Lankan police, after an error with facial recognition technology.
“I have this morning been FALSELY identified by the Sri Lankan government as one of the ISIS Easter attackers in Sri Lanka,” Majeed wrote on Twitter. “What a thing to wake up to!”
Sri Lankan police posted a photo of Majeed online, and she received death threats.
“That was because of an error in a facial recognition system,” Crockford said. “We really have no guarantees that those types of abuses won’t happen here.”