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Unannounced use of license photos in criminal probes puts Ohio AG under fire

By Julia Lull, CNN
updated 12:03 AM EDT, Tue August 27, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The program uses a database of photos from drivers' licenses and mug shots
  • The unannounced program has been used in Ohio 2,677 times since it began in June
  • Ohio's AG says he should have let people know their license photos were in the database
  • An ACLU official says the program should be shut down

(CNN) -- Two months after a controversial facial recognition technology program was launched in Ohio without public notice, state Attorney General Mike DeWine conceded Monday he should have let Ohioans know that their images from driver's licenses were being used by law enforcement in criminal investigations.

"If I had to do it over again, would we have announced it when we did it? Yeah, we would have. And I'll take responsibility for that," DeWine said at a news conference.

Although DeWine said he should have gone public with the program sooner, he gave no indication that the state would change or stop using the program. He did announce that an advisory board will be created to review the system's usage and to suggest policy changes to avoid misuse of the program.

The program allows police to quickly compare a photograph of a suspect or crime victim to an electronic pool of mug shots and driver's license photos in the Ohio database. Comparisons are made of facial measurements from one image to the next in search of a match.

Similar programs are already being used in dozens of other states, according to a statement from DeWine.

Ohio law enforcement agencies began using the facial recognition technology in June, the attorney general's statement said.

DeWine's concession that he should have let the public know about the program sooner was immediately met with criticism.

"The time for press conferences and advisory boards was months ago," Gary Daniels, associate director of the ACLU of Ohio, said in a statement. "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."

The facial recognition technology was developed in 2010 and has been used 2,677 times by Ohio law enforcement since its unofficial release in June, according to DeWine's statement. There was no indication how many of those uses had solved cases.

"When a wanted offender is identified quickly, it can prevent additional crimes and even save lives, and that is what this new technology aims to do," DeWine said.

In addition to easily identifying suspects, the technology assists law enforcement officials in identifying homicide victims, missing persons who suffer from Alzheimer's, dementia or amnesia, and human trafficking victims, he added.

But the ACLU's Daniels argued, "Without specific limits on what government can do with this technology, its use will inevitably and eventually spread to Ohioans who are not criminal suspects."

Misuse of the facial recognition technology is a felony offense, according to the Attorney General's statement.

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