Feds Use State Drivers License Photo Databases Congress Has Questions

Today in Security: Feds Use State Drivers’ License Photo Databases; Congress Has Questions

Over the weekend, several news outlets reported on federal agencies using facial recognition searches of state drivers’ license photo databases in investigations. The news was a result of research from the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology. From the Washington Post article:

“…federal investigators have turned facial recognition into a routine investigative tool. Since 2011, the FBI has logged more than 390,000 facial-recognition searches of federal and local databases, including state DMV databases, the Government Accountability Office said last month, and the records show that federal investigators have forged daily working relationships with DMV officials. In Utah, FBI and ICE agents logged more than 1,000 facial-recognition searches between 2015 and 2017, the records show.”

The practice raises several questions, including:

  • Laws and regulations on this practice are often either nonexistent, vague, or did not originate through a typical process of legislature approval and executive execution. As a result, people getting photo identifications at state DMVs do not know that their photos may be used in this way.
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  • The law center issued a report in May this year with a title that belies its message: “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” The gist of the report is that facial recognition is not reliable and is particularly not reliable under certain conditions, such as for female subjects and subjects with darker complexions.

​Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers sounded concerns when the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held two hearings on facial recognition, one in late May, and one in ear​​ly June. Tomorrow the House Committee on Homeland Security will hold a hearing focused on the Department of Homeland Security’s use of the technology. A blog post from the Georgetown Law Center, which examines requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to use facial recognition searches of drivers’ license databases in three states, figures to feature prominently in the hearing.

Security Management will continue to cover facial recognition issues. Two weeks ago, we reported in Today in Security on a body camera manufacturer that would not implement facial recognition technology for use with its cameras for ethical reasons, and last month we reported San Francisco’s ban of the technology

A short article noting findings from a National Institute of Standards and Technology on the technology appeared in the March 2019 issue of Security Management.

In addition, facial recognition will be covered in the upcoming September SecTech supplement to Security Management.