The Youngstown Vindicator
September 7, 2014
A year ago, a Cincinnati Enquirer investigation revealed that Attorney General Mike DeWine launched a facial-recognition software program that tapped into Ohio’s database of driver’s license photographs.
DeWine did this without public input and without even bothering to tell Ohioans. In addition, he provided access to more than 25,000 individuals involved in law enforcement and the courts—the most liberal access to facial data in the U.S.
Facial-recognition technology is a cutting-edge biometric tool increasingly used by law-enforcement across the country and around the world. Though not yet as reliable as DNA or fingerprints, facial recognition can help determine a suspect’s identity through individual variations in irises, skin textures, vein patterns, palm prints and a person’s gait while walking, according to the Washington Post.
Just as fingerprints detect lines on your hand, facial recognition detects lines on your face, and then compares them against a database of photographs. Law- enforcement officials use it when they have a photograph of a suspect and need to make an identification.
“You can see very different appearances on the surface of a picture — from mustache to beards to glasses and moles — but this biometric technology has allowed us to match pictures with suspects, which helps police work immeasurably,” Tom Stickrath, superintendent of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation told WKYC-TV in Cleveland.
The pervasive use of facial recognition has triggered concerns. Such systems collect data on law abiding citizens from driver’s license and non-driver ID card databases. This data is collected without individuals knowing it and dumped into a database of millions of images.
According to the Enquirer investigation, 26 states and the District of Columbia allow law enforcement to use facial recognition systems—all having more limitations than Ohio. In Pennsylvania, access is limited to about 500 people. When Ohio’s program was launched, 165 members of Pennsylvania’s state police had access to Ohio’s law enforcement database and its facial recognition search.
One in three officers authorized for access in Pennsylvania were also authorized for access in Ohio. According to the Enquirer, the Pennsylvania officers alone who had access in Ohio numbered more than the individuals who had access to systems in most other states.
Attorney General DeWine admitted that he should have told the public about the facial recognition system’s launch in June 2013. When some complained that liberal access to the data would spawn abuse, he said abuse would result in a felony charge and that would deter police from misusing the technology.
DeWine formed an advisory group to suggest security protocol changes that would ensure proper use of the new system. The group recommended limits on who can access the software, monitoring when it’s used and increased security to deter hackers.
Most of those recommendations have been put into place.
Last year, about 26,500 local law enforcement officials, court workers, and employees from other agencies had access to the software. As of May 31, 2014, that number had dropped to about 5,100 people — all law enforcement officials, according to Hackley.
The software has paid some dividends. Akron police detectives used the facial recognition database to identify a suspect accused of murder.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was recently released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino