Saturday, February 17, 2007

Driver’s License Emerges as Crime-Fighting Tool, but Privacy Advocates Worry - New York Times

Driver’s License Emerges as Crime-Fighting Tool, but Privacy Advocates Worry - New York Times

BOSTON, Feb. 12 — On the second floor of a state office building here, upstairs from a food court, three facial-recognition specialists are revolutionizing American law enforcement. They work for the Massachusetts motor vehicles department.

Last year they tried an experiment, for sport. Using computerized biometric technology, they ran a mug shot from the Web site of “America’s Most Wanted,” the Fox Network television show, against the state’s database of nine million digital driver’s license photographs.

The computer found a match. A man who looked very much like Robert Howell, the fugitive in the mug shot, had a Massachusetts driver’s license under another name. Mr. Howell was wanted in Massachusetts on rape charges.

The analysts passed that tip along to the police, who tracked him down to New York City, where he was receiving welfare benefits under the alias on the driver’s license. Mr. Howell was arrested in October.

At least six other states have or are working on similar enormous databases of driver’s license photographs. Coupled with increasingly accurate facial-recognition technology, the databases may become a radical innovation in law enforcement.

Other biometric databases are more useful for now. But DNA and fingerprint information, for instance, are not routinely collected from the general public. Most adults, on the other hand, have a driver’s license with a picture on it, meaning that the relevant databases for facial-recognition analysis already exist. And while the current technology requires good-quality photographs, the day may not be far off when images from ordinary surveillance cameras will routinely help solve crimes.

Critics say the databases may therefore also represent a profound threat to privacy.

“What is the D.M.V.?” asked Lee Tien, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a privacy advocate. “Does it license motor vehicles and drivers? Or is it really an identification arm of law enforcement?”

Anne L. Collins, the Massachusetts registrar of motor vehicles, said that people seeking a driver’s license at least implicitly consent to allowing their images to be used for other purposes.

“One of the things a driver’s license has become,” Ms. Collins said, “is evidence that you are who you say you are.”


Nathan said...

Sounds like surveillance and the drivers license data base could be a good future tool for Identifying criminals. I wish the two questions above about the D.M.V had been answered. Why weren't they?

Sentry1st Surveillance

Scott said...

Because they were rhetorical questions. Of course the DMV was not built as a crime fighting tool. Notice also how this agence just decided to start experimenting with this technology. Yet no new laws were passed authorizing it. You can't just do whatever you want, especially if it entails violating people's Constitutional rights. The driver's license itself is unconstitutional for private citizens, and was ruled such by the Supreme Court, who declared that if you don't make money off using the roads, you don't need a license. Guess that is being ignored also.

Also, how long before the criminals realize this, and just start driving without a license at all. That's the sort of things criminals do, right? Or fake licenses. Or get a buddy to show up to take a picture and pretend to be them. Criminals will defeat this within days. Law abiding citizens will live the rest of their lives with less freedom, treated like the personal property of the government that should serve them.

Wait for the first false positives to show up, when policemen start pointing a gun in your face because some guy who looks like you robbed a bank in Hawaii. Do you think they'll even say sorry after you're released from custody the next week, and you lose your job?

Bottom line, they'll never stop crime, and they know it. It's all about controlling us.

Scott said...

Oh, one other thing. I fully support private use of surveillance technology, such as what your company offers. Because I'm free to use or not use it. I cannot do the same with the DMV. I am forced against my will to carry a drivers license.