CA implementing facial recognition software for DMV

by Caren Sachs,

Back in the day, advanced identification technologies from action thrillers like the Mission Impossible seemed too far-fetched to ever become a reality. Today, thanks to a new contract proposed by the California Department of Motor Vehicles, thumbprint and facial recognition software implemented for issuing driver’s licenses and ID cards in the state may just make the local DMV feel like a movie set.

According to the CA DMV, each year 1, 200 files are matched to the wrong individual using the current process. The $63 million automated image-verification system should aid in reducing such errors as well as the number of fraudulent driver’s licenses issued.

Although the purpose of the new technology is to protect citizens from identity theft by reducing the amount of fraudulent licenses and ID cards, the privacy and security of CA drivers could be at stake.

The new technology, called biometric authentication, would eventually require an estimated 25 million California drivers to drop by a DMV and provide their best facial and thumbprint scan. The software would allow the DMV to compare your new photo with your older photos already in their database. The newly recorded information would then be input into a biometric information database that the state DMV and government officials, such as police officers, could access.  

Law enforcement would legally have to check with the DMV before they could obtain your records; however, it is entirely possible that your private information could end up in the wrong hands or be used for the wrong reason.  

With computer technology comes computer hackers who could still find a way to steal your identity. If your driver’s license or credit card is stolen, the numbers can be changed.  But if your biometric information is hacked and changed, the victim will be facing a major uphill battle to reclaim their face.

In addition, there is the possibility that a government official could misuse someone’s personal information for unnecessary surveillance purposes. Some disgruntled official could, for example, scan a crowd of people at a political rally, single out a certain person, and obtain their biometric information to profile and track them down. Innocent people could potentially be stalked at the hands of someone with too much power.

"What if someone goes to a picket line or a protest rally, and someone were to use the DMV repository to profile and track them down because they spoke out on issues?" asked Richard Holober, executive director of the Consumer Federation of California.

How does the DMV know this technology is accurate and foolproof? 3VR Security Inc., which claims to have developed the world’s most accurate facial recognition software, states that their technology is over 90 percent effective. That’s pretty good, but it still leaves nearly ten percent of folks out in the cold and very frustrated if a scanner doesn’t recognize them.

Perhaps the worst part about this new contract is the fact that it was proposed under the radar, without the public being made aware of it, so citizens don’t even have the chance to ask all of the questions they want regarding their privacy and security. Technologists and citizen-elected officials were not given the chance to vet the software either to analyze its success rate, so they cannot inform the public if this technology would even truly help to protect them.

The contract supposedly lists Oregon, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, and Georgia as having implemented similar software programs in their systems, which has resulted in a decrease of identity theft by as much as 10 percent.  However, pubic relations representatives from both Georgia and Oregon DMV offices told OhMyGov! that their states just recently implemented the software, and that it was too soon to conduct a statistical analysis of the programs.

The DMV representative in Oregon also said that though the software wouldn’t be implemented into all of the DMV locations until mid-2009, their citizens were made aware of the new technology "years and years ago." The public was informed of the possible new requirements and even given the chance to attend committee hearings where they could voice their opinions.

The CA DMV biometric contract was sent to the state’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee, and unless the committee intervenes tomorrow, February 11, California drivers will lose their right to voice their opinion in a public debate.