Advances in facial recognition software raise questions of how much information states like Ohio should share

Biometric facial recognition may replace boarding passes
Posted at 10:44 AM, Jul 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-23 18:15:08-04

CLEVELAND — Over the last few months the House Oversight and Reform Committee in Washington has been looking into the practice of state's sharing with federal authorities their database of drivers license photos to be used in the facial recognition efforts of criminal investigations of the FBI, ICE and DEA.

Ohio is one of 21 states the committee found that has shared access to their photos with the federal government and the discussion prompted Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to launch a review of the state's policies on the matter.

"The particulars here involve practices established long before this administration took office," a spokesperson for Yost told News 5. "Ohioans are entitled to know what types of information our law enforcement use to solve crimes. Understanding those answers and more is the focus of our 30-day review of these practices.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio applauded Yost's move and while also calling on him to go further.

"Encouraging the attorney general to examine additional ways Ohioans’ personal information is accessed by the federal government via the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG) system. The ACLU of Ohio poses six additional questions/concerns we encourage Mr. Yost to research in order to preserve Ohioans’ privacy," the organization said in a statement.

Those include reporting which federal agencies, departments and entities with access to OHLEG, what their purposes are, what if any restrictions are on the information and what security protocols each of those federal agencies are using to make sure the data is not misused.

"Broaden the scope here and look at how any of this potential information could be used and accessed not just facial recognition database." said ACLU of Ohio's Chief Lobbyist Gary Daniels.

A spokesperson for Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, who was Attorney General at the time the federal government was allowed access to the database of pictures from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, told News 5 that access was very limited and case specific to do things like identify suspects who refuse to identify themselves or give false identities, identify suspects in a covert investigation or individuals suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's who can't identify themselves.

The ACLU's Daniels told News 5 protections need to be put in place to better protect Ohio's database which is something that the general public has access to in ways the federal government does not.

"The state of Ohio routinely sells drivers license information to all kinds of people for the asking," Daniels said. "What's to prevent, if the Federal Government doesn't like current or perhaps future restrictions on their access to the facial recognition database - what's to prevent them from using a third party to just do public records requests and pay for all of this BMV information and do the same thing regardless of how they get that information."

In response to the ACLU's suggestions the Ohio Attorney General's office said, "this is exactly why we started our review in early July and we look forward to presenting our findings next month."