SALT LAKE CITY — Utah legislative leaders say they might hold hearings on news reports that the state Department of Public Safety allowed federal immigration agents to use Utahns' driver's license photos for facial recognition searches.
Republican and Democratic House and Senate leaders issued a joint statement Tuesday expressing confidence in the public safety department while saying they are "eager" to learn more about its efforts to ensure residents' personal data is protected from misuse by any agency.
"We will continue to closely monitor this situation to determine if legislative action is needed in the future. We have tasked the Government Operations Interim Committee to follow this situation and hold committee meetings if necessary," according to the statement.
Any search must be authorized by law, done in a careful and limited manner, and effectively balance privacy concerns with law enforcement and public safety needs, said the statement from Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton; House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville; Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City; and House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City.
The Utah Department of Public Safety refuted reports that it allowed Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to mine Utahns' driver's license photos using facial recognition technology.
In at least three states that offer driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, ICE officials have requested to electronically analyze driver's license photos, according to newly released documents first reported by the Washington Post. At least two of those states, Utah and Vermont, complied, searching their photos for matches, those records show.
But public safety officials say the Utah Statewide Information and Analysis Center, which runs the state's facial recognition system, received 49 facial recognition requests from ICE between October 2015 and November 2017. Of those requests, less than 10 percent resulted in a positive hit, meaning that 90 percent of the time no information was given to ICE, according to the department.
Public safety department spokeswoman Marissa Cote said Monday that federal agencies or agents don't have access to the state's database. Any request for a facial recognition search must be tied to a criminal investigation, she said.