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State officials refute reports of sharing drivers’ license data

(Photo: KSL file)

SALT LAKE CITY – What’s real and what’s not?  State public safety officials say recent reports showing that Utah has been improperly sharing face recognition data with agencies like the FBI and ICE are wildly inaccurate.  Still, some elected officials say they’re very concerned with what they read.

The Washington Post is reporting there have been more than 390 thousand facial recognition searches across the country since 2011, and that the FBI and ICE got a lot of this information from driver’s license pictures all over the country.  They cited that there have been over a thousand of these searches in Utah just between 2015 and 2017.

Currently, federal law enforcement agencies are allowed to ask for information from the Driver’s License Division in Utah, however, Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox says there are strict rules law enforcement need to follow to get this data.

Cox says, “What we have been told is that it’s only in a criminal investigation.  Only when they have a name and a case number,” adding, “Not just opening up the driver’s license files and running willy-nilly through them.”

The Governor’s Office has been getting briefed by DPS on how closely federal agents have been working with the DLD.  The WaPo story says agents have forged “daily working relationships” with DMV workers.

“If the reports are accurate, and I’m not sure they are, that’s my big caveat… if the reports are accurate then we are deeply concerned, and we’re not OK with that,” Cox says.

However, officials with the DPS say this kind of information sharing isn’t actually happening in Utah.

First, they say the part of the state’s facial recognition system that is used by law enforcement isn’t actually managed by the DLD.  They say the Statewide Information and Analysis Center is in charge of that.

Plus, they say there have only been 49 requests from federal agents to SIAC between 2015 and 2017, not the “more than 1,000” that has been reported, and they say every one of those requests were connected to active investigations.

Representative Brian King says he was furious when he first read the national reports and he hopes that the articles are wrong.  However, he says since the questions have been raised, he’d like to have more answers about how much information the FBI and ICE have been given.

“Those stories are significant enough that we need to get to the bottom of this,” King says.