Ohio facial recognition database can be accessed by 30,000 police officers, others without any oversight
By Madison Ruppert
Editor of End the Lie
Some 30,000 police officers and court employees in Ohio can access driver’s license images in the state’s facial recognition database with no oversight or audits, according to a report.
While this is the nation’s most permissive system, the fact is that facial recognition systems are used nationwide with similarly lax legal standards, as I reported in June. Similar databases are on the rise thanks to the FBI’s distribution of facial recognition software and their $1 billion facial recognition system.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office launched the facial recognition system in June, according to the Enquirer. The technology was in use in over half of the states at the time, according to DeWine.
Such technology is not only used in law enforcement contexts. Indeed, increasingly powerful facial recognition systems are being rolled out on platforms ranging from mannequins to drones to border crossings to city-wide systems around the globe.
However, the Enquirer reports that some states have the use of these systems on a tight leash.
In Kentucky, only 34 people can run a facial recognition search, according to the Enquirer. Of those, three are in the license bureau and 31 are in the state police department.
Ohio’s level of access is “unmatched anywhere else in the country,” according to the Enquirer. As part of their investigation, they contacted officials in every other state and the District of Columbia to obtain details about their facial recognition systems.
In addition to Ohio, 37 states along with the District of Columbia have launched facial recognition systems that are capable of matching a driver’s license picture with another photograph.
In most states, the system was launched by the driver’s license bureau in an attempt to prevent duplicate identification cards and fraud. Ohio’s system, on the other hand, was launched by the attorney general.
On the other hand, 12 states do not use facial recognition software at all. Another 12 states use facial recognition software but reportedly do not allow law enforcement agencies to access the technology.
Since Ohio launched the system, it has been quite popular. Officers have performed at least 2,600 searches on the new database since June 2.
The precise nature of these searches is not clear, though the system can be used to match driver’s license images and police mug shots with any image, even one captured by a surveillance camera.
The database does not just include photos. The investigation found that any of the 30,000 people with access to the database could also acquire information as personal as home addresses and Social Security numbers.
DeWine said that he is satisfied with the system’s “adequate” safeguards. He said that the threat of prosecution and other safeguards help prevent misuse of the system.
However, we know that government employees aren’t always the most scrupulous when it comes to use of their systems.
After all, NSA employees used the agency’s massive international surveillance network to spy on their lovers and former spouses.
Furthermore, a recent Enquirer report revealed, “The lead attorney for Ohio’s law enforcement database resigned in 2009 after misusing the system but was not charged with a crime.”
“Without stronger restrictions and security measures, how many cases of abuse are slipping by in offices across the state?” the Enquirer asked.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio clearly does not agree with DeWine’s claims about adequate safeguards.
In an August 26 press release, the ACLU of Ohio called on DeWine to “pull the plug” on the program.
“Without specific limits on what government can do with this technology, its use will inevitably and eventually spread to Ohioans who are not criminal suspects,” said ACLU of Ohio Associate Director Gary Daniels. “This is not speculation. It is a foregone conclusion when government thinks of law enforcement first and its citizens’ right to privacy last.”
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