8/27/2013Ohio Announces Drivers License Database Facial Recognition
Attorney general of Ohio belatedly announces facial recognition system allows law enforcement to search drivers license database.
Driver's licenses are being used for much more than just certifying an individual's ability to drive on public roads. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced Monday that the state has for several months been using facial recognition technology in a database that allows law enforcement agents to match a face with a name, address and record at will.
"Facial recognition is an automation of a search capability that's been available for decades," DeWine said.
By measuring the distance between various facial features, such as the distance between the eyes and the length of the nose, a computer can translate an image into a set of numeric codes that can be sorted and searched in a matter of minutes.
"It is not as exact, certainly, as DNA nor is it as exact as fingerprints," DeWine admitted.
The system was activated on June 6 and has already been used 2667 times so far. DeWine back then thought the program was a natural extension of existing law enforcement capabilities and was not worth announcing. That changed when former intelligence community contractor Edward Snowden kicked off a firestorm of controversy by revealing the extent of National Security Agency collection of domestic emails and telephone records.
"As the different stories were in the paper about the public's concern about what government was doing, we started looking at this," DeWine said. "While I firmly believe that the protections that in are in place today are adequate, I felt that we should reach outside our department and bring in judges, the public defender, chiefs of police, public safety, sheriffs, other people to look at the protocol that we have... in [the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway] for facial recognition."
The same database has been misused many times in the past. Last year, Shelby County Sheriff Dean Kimpel was convicted of using the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway database to perform background checks on four women. The charge only came to light after he was indicted for sexual assault of one of the victims he had looked up in the database. Kimpel was sentenced to community service.
The working group of government officials will have sixty days to report back on the government system. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called on DeWine to halt the program until the privacy protocols are nailed down.
"The time for press conferences and advisory boards was months ago," Ohio Associate ACLU Director Gary Daniels. "This system needs to be shut down until there are meaningful, documented rules in place to keep this information secure, protect the privacy of innocent people, and prevent government abuse of this new tool."