Civil Liberties

Facial ID

Drivers license database


In June, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine quietly integrated facial recognition software into a state database that includes driver's license photos. When his project was revealed in news reports, DeWine promised to create a commission to develop protocols for using the technology, tacitly admitting that no safeguards were in place on a system that turned every Ohio driver into a participant in a virtual police line-up.

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, some 30,000 police officers and court employees are authorized to search driver's license images without audits or oversight. That's the largest pool of authorized users, and the fewest restrictions, in the country. By contrast, Kentucky allows just 34 license bureau personnel and state police officers the ability to run facial recognition searches. Twelve states don't have the technology at all, with Maine law forbidding its use by state agencies. Several states that do possess the technology don't allow law enforcement to use it.

Facial recognition software can generate high error levels even when correctly used. In system requirements released following a Freedom of Information Act request, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimated that facial recognition software will "return an incorrect candidate a maximum of 20 percent of the time."