By Aaron Kesel
Arizona citizens are now in a government database that uses facial recognition technology to track them simply for getting a driver’s license. This allows federal and local law enforcement to use the “perpetual lineup” of suspects not accused of a crime to see if someone is wanted for a crime, Arizona Capitol Times reported.
The state says that the program is to prevent identity theft and fraud. Here’s how it works according to Arizona Capitol Times.
After someone at the Motor Vehicle Division takes your photo, your face is scanned by a system based on a proprietary algorithm that analyzes facial features. The system compares your face against the 19 million photos in the state’s driver’s license database to look for similarities. If an image is similar enough, the system will flag it for further review.
The program is an effort that is part of a nationwide initiative called the REAL ID Act that was created by Congress in 2005 as a response to the September 11th terror attacks. The system allows the state to comply with the federal act, which increased standards for identification documents. Although the REAL ID Act does not explicitly call for facial recognition, it does maintain that states need to take measures to reduce fraud.
The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) already has publicly boasted about the success with more than 100 cases it has taken to court for fraud using the technology, which has been in place since early 2015.
But the use of the system to prevent identity theft isn’t what people are worried about; the problem is the lack of oversight in government programs that allows anyone with access to look into the database. As such, state-run facial recognition databases are dangerous and can lead down a slippery slope to allow other operations the technology wasn’t intended for.
The other key issue is the fact that residents in Arizona aren’t even being told that this is going on – coupled with the lack of oversight and disclosure, it becomes a nightmare for privacy rights advocates.
“If you don’t know that a system is in place, you actually don’t have the choice of consenting to it or not,” said Clare Garvie who authored the “perpetual line-up” study.
Jim Dempsey, the executive director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology, also had some reservations about the lack of disclosure currently in effect.
Informed consent, through giving notice to people that their faces will be matched up against millions of others when they apply for a license, is a basic tenet of privacy, Jim Dempsey, the executive director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology, said.
Even if notice is given, it’s unlikely that people would opt out of getting a license because facial recognition technology is used because people will decide driving a car and having a legal ID outweigh the risks, Dempsey said.
“It’s an important element. The lack of it is an issue, but it’s one that should be corrected and would be easy to correct,” he said.
Both the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have voiced their concerns about state facial recognition databases and how this could be tied into the push by the federal government to use these databases in airports and border checkpoints creating a dystopian Orwellian surveillance state.
“DMV photo databases are probably the most comprehensive databases in existence,” which means they’re “very, very powerful” tools for potential surveillance, something the ACLU worries could be a “next step,” Jay Stanley a senior policy analyst at ACLU said.
One of the main pitfalls of such a system is not only the lack of oversight on the program by any government watchdog, but the fact that there are no laws to justify the collections, or a court between law enforcement and access to millions of people’s identities.
The only requirement for those that search is that it must involve people suspected of committing a crime or “who law enforcement may suspect is about to commit a crime.” People could also be involved in activities that are threats to public safety, sought as part of a criminal investigation or “intelligence-gathering effort.”
Such extremely broad terms for using this technology is extremely worrying and has a high potential for abuse.
“There should at the very least be a court involved before law enforcement can access millions of unwitting people’s identities,” EFF staff attorney, Adam Schwartz, said.
“It’s really hard to function in a car-based society without a driver’s license, and people shouldn’t be subjected to an invasive technology when they decide to follow the law and get a legal document that allows them to drive,” he added. “It’s a misuse of data to collect data, in this case images, for one thing and use them for other purposes.”
Schwartz added that
in many states, including Arizona, agencies have started using facial recognition technology outside of any formal approval from the public and its representatives, state lawmakers.”
“Before government starts using powerful technology to surveil the public, there ought to be a more open and transparent process where the public controls whether or not this is picked up.
All in all, this could set a larger precedent for the surveillance state that the DHS wants in the country under its REAL ID program. States must adopt REAL ID standards by Oct. 1, 2020, or their residents will need alternate identification to travel which may include carrying a passport domestically, Daily Mail reported.