Ohio AG clears federal agencies to use facial recognition system

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The Ohio Attorney General’s Office released a report Wednesday that clears federal agencies of any wrongdoing here in the State when it comes to use of Ohio’s facial recognition system.​

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost ordered the system be reviewed after news reports that claimed the FBI and ICE were using driver’s license databases as “an unprecedented surveillance infrastructure.”​

The report reveals a number of things, one of the most significant is that federal agencies had no direct access to the facial recognition system.​ In Ohio, only state law enforcement agencies could obtain direct access to the system, and even then only 25,558 of the 52,680 registered users have an active account. Of the 25,558 active users, only 4,549 had access to the facial recognition system.

From around 2014, federal agencies could only request a facial recognition search through the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations and could not conduct the search themselves.​ The report further broke down how many times the facial recognition system was used.​

In 2018 the system received 3,833 total inquiries; 3,660 were from state and local agencies and the remaining 173 were requests from federal agencies.​ Those requests included 97 from the U.S. Border Patrol – Sandusky Bay Station; 32 from State Department/Bureau of Diplomatic Security; 21 from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); and 6 from the FBI. The U.S. Marshals Service, the DEA, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, and the ATF also made inquires.​

Through the first half of the 2019 there have been 2,406 inquiries made, which projects a nearly 25% increase over last year if things were to keep on the current pace. It also shows ICE alone had an increase of nearly 58% over 2018 requests this year as well, and that’s through the end of July. In 2018 ICE made 21 requests, in 2019 (through July 31) they made 36.​

At the end of the year, however, an asterisk will have to be place next to the total number of inquiries because things are about to change.​

On Wednesday, Yost announced he was terminating access to the facial recognition system to everyone except BCI staff. All requests from both in and out of state will have to go through BCI for the foreseeable future.​

Yost wants a training course for the facial recognition system to be developed and put in place before he reopens it to Ohio law enforcement, which will have to take the course and re-apply for access to the system.​ The attorney general is concerned that law enforcement in Ohio hasn’t been properly trained or received enough training on facial recognition technology and wants to make sure it’s being used properly by police.​

According to Yost, Hamilton County uses the system the most in the state, and he gave an example of how they use it to identify people who have been arrested by will not give up their name.​ But Yost cited research he has read that indicates the technology is not infallible and he says it has been shown to misidentify certain groups of individuals at a disproportionate rate. He stressed that facial recognition is a tool and that it has to be used as such.​

“It’s only a starting place; it’s a lead; it’s a clue in a criminal investigation; it’s the place we start, not the place we end.”​ Yost is unaware of any incident where the concern he voiced was reported, or is the case.​ The system uses BMV photos as a comparison for facial recognition software. ​

Some have argued the federal government has used BMV photos without the consent of the individuals. Yost dismisses such arguments, stating driver’s license photos are used to identify an individual and to say they should not be used for such a thing is nonsense.​

If you really want to get into it though, all you have to do is figure out who owns the photograph’s copywrite. Typically, the individual taking the picture is the owner, in this case it would be the BMV employee who works for the State, therefore it could be argued the State owns the rights to the image and can do what they want with it. The driver doesn’t own the rights to the picture, despite paying for the license, because there is nothing in the contract that transfers rights of the image used on the license to them.​

You could also argue that same contract that results in you getting your driver’s license also does not include you giving the State the rights to use your image or likeness, but that’s also why you don’t often see the State putting driver’s license photos on billboards or online.​

Finally, you could also look at the privacy argument through the lens of mug shots and the prevalence of posting them online for the public to peruse. Taken long before a person is convicted or acquitted of a crime, they are often found online for people to ogle at, especially if you were photographed in a state that is less than presentable.​

A final note, the facial recognition system will still be accessible by law enforcement at the State, Local and Federal level even after direct access to it is terminated. Yost says that process could take a few days and expects it to be fully concluded by next Monday or Tuesday.​

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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