The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio on Monday called on Attorney General Mike DeWine to halt local and state law enforcement’s use of facial recognition software, arguing proper privacy protections and protocols have not been put into place.
Law enforcement officers have been able since June 6 to automatically match photos against a database of driver’s license, state-issued ID cards, arrest mugshots and other state photo records to find names and contact information. Officers have been able to access those photos for years, but previously had to search by name, address or other identifiable information.
Law enforcement officers using the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway have utilized facial recognition 2,677 times between June 6 and Aug. 21. DeWine said Monday he should have announced the new facial recognition function when the system first went live in early June. He said his office did not publicly announce the new tool because more than half the states use it and it is an extension of lawful procedure.
“It was not anything that I thought was out of the ordinary — it’s a natural extension with what we’ve done with BMV records,” DeWine told reporters during a Monday morning news conference. Watch video of DeWine here.
The attorney general’s office announced the news conference Sunday, after the Cincinnati Enquirer first reported the new technology and discussions among DeWine and staff members about whether to make it public knowledge.
ACLU Associate Director Gary Daniels said press conferences and advisory boards should have been convened months ago.
“This system needs to be shut down until there are meaningful, documented rules in place to keep this information secure, protect the privacy of innocent people and prevent government abuse of this new tool,” Daniels said in a statement.
DeWine said the database and facial recognition feature can only be accessed for “lawful purposes” and no new protocols or privacy protections were added when the system went live. He has since convened a panel of judges, the public defender, chiefs of police, sheriffs and other law enforcement officers to review the use of the new technology and suggest policy changes. DeWine has set an Oct. 25 deadline for the panel’s recommendations.
Daniels said that without specific limits on the technology, use will spread to Ohioans who are not criminal suspects.
“This is not speculation,” Daniels said. “It is a foregone conclusion when government thinks of law enforcement first and its citizens’ right to privacy last.”
Cincinnati attorney David Pepper, who has announced his candidacy to run against DeWine in 2014 on the Democratic ticket, was quick to criticize DeWine for not publicly announcing the new technology and examining privacy issues.
“I see the law enforcement benefits, but I also see major risks and concerns and the bottom line is you should be transparent about what this is and what you’re going to do with it,” Pepper said.
DeWine said no new photos are added or new databases created. Facial recognition software measures and compares the distance between points and human facial features, such as between the eyes. The technology could be used to identify a bank robber caught on security camera or a lost elderly person with Alzheimer’s disease.
“I don’t hesitate for a minute to tell you I’m proud of this technology, I’m proud of what we’re doing and we’re going to save lives,” DeWine said.