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The California DMV wants to quietly implement a new software technology that has drawn heavy criticism from privacy groups

Although the state of California has major money issues and will close DMVs every Friday, it looks like the DMV is interested in using new facial recognition software that has drawn major concern from privacy groups.

The proposed five-year, $63 million contract allows the DMV to use computer software to compare an applicant's photo taken at the agency against other images in the DMV database -- in theory; it'll be used to help prevent identity theft against people who have a driver's license.

"What this would allow law enforcement to do is scan a crowd of folks, check that image against the database and have their names and addresses," said American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) spokesperson Valerie Smalls.

Any time either state or federal government brings up biometrics, there is a collective groan from security experts, and this particular case is no different.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of California have joined forces with the ACLU to fight against the controversial software.

DMV officials said the police don't have "open access" to the database of drivers' information right now, and wouldn't suddenly have access to it if the DMV began using this software.  Currently, if a police officer need to look for a license holder's address or driving record, according to DMV officials, it must be requested through the DMV.

If the police wish to compare an image to the license database, they'll need to have approval before they'll have access to the system, the DMV said.

"We believe this new contract is in the best interest of the citizens; it is in the best interest of all of us," said Dennis Clear, DMV assistant director of legislation.

The contract is currently being fast-tracked and state officials could approve it as early as March, though controversy surrounding the contract and software will only continue to grow.  Critics are also concerned that it's being rushed so quickly, noting that the program can be funded while backers do not have to deal with public hearings.

All 25 million drivers in California could one day be included in the database.

Oregon, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado and Georgia already use similar controversial technology, with several other states interested in introducing the software.



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3 sides
By heulenwolf on 2/6/2009 9:59:33 AM , Rating: 2
I agree that there are three sides to this issue.

1) Where's the issue? I don't see the privacy issue in having a computer compare your old photo against a current one. Keep the machine running this software connected only to the camera at the photo counter. Potentially, its one more way to verify your identity without requiring you to dig up and bring in your birth certificate. The fact that power could be exploited for an unintended purpose if rules are broken isn't much of an argument, especially when that power is already in place. The DMV verifies identity and issues ID cards. Sure, oversight of how this technology is used is necessary. So, set up some reasonable rules and oversight. Similar processes are already in place for other technologies they use.

2) Waste spending? Why not simply display your old photo on the camera operator's screen when you walk up to the counter for your new photo? Then, they can perform the visual comparison themselves. Is this capability to base the comparison on some company's unknown, proprietary algorithms really worth $63 million?

3) Potential privacy issue, but not as explained: Every technology and algorithm has some false positive and missed negative rate. What are the processes for handling the situation where the algorithm says your face doesn't match and the operator or your other documents say that you are who you say? How is the case where there's a clear mismatch due to injury or plastic surgery handled? Do folks have to disclose to the gov't that they've had plastic surgery on their face? If so, how do they prove it? Even if they do prove that they've had surgery, that just means their face has changed and does not prove that their face used to look like the old photo. In short, this technology has practical limitations which mean it cannot be solely relied upon to pick out ID thieves.




RE: 3 sides
By Steve1981 on 2/6/2009 11:22:36 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
1) Where's the issue? I don't see the privacy issue in having a computer compare your old photo against a current one. Keep the machine running this software connected only to the camera at the photo counter. Potentially, its one more way to verify your identity without requiring you to dig up and bring in your birth certificate. The fact that power could be exploited for an unintended purpose if rules are broken isn't much of an argument, especially when that power is already in place. The DMV verifies identity and issues ID cards. Sure, oversight of how this technology is used is necessary. So, set up some reasonable rules and oversight. Similar processes are already in place for other technologies they use.


The problem as I see it (other than the other reasonable objections you state) is a bit of healthy paranoia.

Is the DMV using this technology for fraud prevention in and of itself bad? No, of course not. And as you say, if there are checks and balances on how biometrics are used in this regard, it isn't a real problem.

The problem surfaces if you consider that the government must at a minimum appear benevolent solely because the power in this country resides with the people. Biometrics alone won't change that; however, they certainly would provide a piece of the puzzle. So the question is, how many pieces of the puzzle do we want to give the government, and how many does it take to risk altering the balance of power that makes us free men?


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