Driving PA Forward, along with the students and faculty of Villanova University’s Framework Legal Advocacy Clinic, has released a report that found Pennsylvania shares drivers’ personal information without being able to determine how the details revealed are going to be used.
Drivers’ Personal Information Shared
Personal information provided by drivers to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), such as date-of-birth, address, height, eye color, and photo, can end up in the hands of federal law enforcement and private businesses. The research revealed that this could happen without the driver’s knowledge.
Certain parts of the report were confirmed by PennDOT, while the agency asserted there were some inaccuracies. The agency does share information in response to a “subpoena or warrant or lawful data request form,” as well as with federal law enforcement, said PennDOT community relations coordinator Diego Sandino.
Immigration Advocates Protest
Driving PA Forward, a statewide coalition composed of farmers, businesses, advocacy, faith, labor, and community organizations, directs its activities towards passage of legislation regarding the accessibility of a standard driver’s license with strict privacy and data protection for all Pennsylvanians regardless of their immigration status.
Last year, an article in the Washington Post drew bipartisan criticism, reporting that millions of drivers’ images across the United States have been used without permission. This is very alarming to drivers in states that allow drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants. In Maryland, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is reported to have run a facial recognition search of millions of drivers.
“Once the information is placed in the databases, it can be accessed by government agencies and private businesses,” stated the report. PennDOT disputes that any businesses have access to the information through these databases; the researchers say otherwise. The report further states that there is still no public access to the list on Pennsylvania Justice Network (JNET) users or standards by which JNET grants access for individual searches.
PennDOT, through non-public agreements, sells information to private brokers such as LexisNexis, and in a few cases, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has made arrests using information accessed through these companies. The 2016 audit report points out that PennDOT information shared with LexisNexis, found some users were not filling out mandatory paperwork about how they plan to use the personal information, and a few of the agreements were expired.
“Pennsylvania takes its protection and stewardship of driver records very seriously and does so in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations,” said PennDOT spokesperson Sandino in response to the report. He further confirmed that ICE has had access to JNET and Commonwealth Law Enforcement Assistance Network (CLEAN) data since 2010. However, Pennsylvania still does not provide licenses to undocumented immigrants, so the risk of ICE accessing their data is mitigated.
The report released by Driving PA Forward states that PennDOT bars its information from being used to make immigration arrests, tightens who can request its information directly, and provides public updates on the “volume and nature” of the requests that PennDOT receives. The report also emphasizes that the state should place more restrictions on what information goes into law enforcement databases, and update their laws concerning selling information to private brokers, especially without driver consent.
According to an NPR news report, the first case of a wrongful arrest has occurred; a black man accused of theft in Detroit was arrested solely based on facial recognition. The angle of the images taken, and the quality of images affect the accuracy of the facial recognition matches. In 2013, PennDOT’s database of images expanded 3.5 million to 36 million images.
Pennsylvania Proposes Drivers’ Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants
Pennsylvania last week introduced a bill in its House of Representatives that would tighten information-sharing rules. The bill pushes for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. Supporters of the bill say that this move will address the reality of unlicensed drivers and benefit everyone on the road. “Pennsylvania will be safer if everyone has a driver’s license,” said Luis Larin, statewide coordinator for Driving PA Forward. This move will ensure that drivers have passed a driving test and will have insurance while on the road.
According to the Pew Research Center, Pennsylvania is home to approximately 170,000 undocumented immigrants.