Apparently the National Security Administration (NSA) isn’t the only government agency collecting information on American citizens without oversight. According to multiple news sources, including CNN, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has just disclosed that Ohio driver license photos have been uploaded to a facial recognition database for criminal identification.
According to DeWine, the program allows police to quickly compare photographs of suspects or crime victims to an electronic pool of mug shots and driver license photos in the Ohio database. Comparisons are made of facial measurements from one image to the next in search of a match. The problem with all of this is that it’s been active since June – in secret.
With no rules or written regulations governing the use of this information, the AG can do whatever he wants with it. No official should have such wide-sweeping access to personal information on citizens.
Neither DeWine, nor any of his cronies, has any right to dig through the records of Ohio citizens without due process. Within moments of disclosing this information, the American Civil Liberties Union pounced on the situation, and, for a change, rightfully so.
ACLU Associate Director Gary Daniels issued a statement calling upon DeWine to, “Pull the plug” on the system. “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.
According to his statement at the press conference revealing this program, DeWine said, “Misuse of the facial recognition system is a felony offense.” But how can he make a statement like that when there are currently no written rules to govern its use?
As he told The Enquirer, it’s the AG’s opinion that he didn’t need to inform the public when the system was launched because 26 other states already have similar databases in operation. Only now, after the information was prematurely uncovered by the press, has DeWine decided to publicly form an expert advisory panel of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement representatives to create rules preventing privacy abuse.
Where is the state legislature in that list of “experts?” Our state representatives should be the ones governing the rules of operation for such a system, not those who already have control over it and the ability to exploit the information.
All this begs the question, if DeWine is uploading identification photos, what else is he collecting? Every photo is part of a larger database of names, addresses, and Social Security numbers. So who is looking at all of that and how much access do they have? Even more importantly, what can be done to control its use?
Protecting the public is what an attorney general is supposed to do. Sadly, when the person holding that office has an overwhelming sense of omnipotence, the public has to protect itself instead from him. Then, only the state legislature can take the proper action to limit DeWine’s reach with such sensitive data.
People need to call, email, fax, write to their state representative and demand they act immediately to avoid mishandling of this information and force the AG to disclose every detail of this program to the public. The idea that he felt he was not obligated to tell anyone only emphasizes the need for extensive regulation by the State House.
In the meantime, be aware that likely anyone in the AG office has access to any and all personal information collected by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles without proper due process of law, warrant or oversight. It’s not good enough that we’re supposed to simply “trust” Mike DeWine’s policies, especially knowing now that he has hidden this program for months. If he has concealed this, then what else could he be he hiding?