Debate Center: Another reason to smile for that driver’s license photo
By some reports, 26 states use what is known as facial recognition software to ID suspected criminals. Beginning this summer, Ohio joined those states by using the facial recognition software in a program called the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OLEG). OLEG is a database network giving police access to anything from criminal histories to information on missing children to gang activity. The facial recognition software in OLEG allows police to match mug shots or surveillance footage to driver’s license photos and state IDs supplied from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, all in an effort to quickly match suspected criminals to criminal activity.
Ohio’s facial recognition program has been in use since June, but it has not been public knowledge, and since the Cincinnati Enquirer broke the story, Attorney General Mike DeWine has been pressed to explain what is happening. DeWine has admitted the program should have been revealed, but he stands behind the program and its alleged law enforcement merits and said, “I never thought there would be a big concern about it simply because over half of the states do it.” He further added it is “a natural extension of what law enforcement has done in the past.” He is currently assembling a panel of judges and law enforcement officers who will review the program to ensure proper privacy protections are in place. For some people, however, that might not be enough.
Opponents of the program have serious privacy concerns, especially with the recent government surveillance scandals lurking in the background. Opponents first say the secrecy with which the program is conducted is enough reason to raise red flags, because decisions like these cannot be made behind closed doors. They further say this amounts to tracking and surveillance without a warrant. Problems of misuse come up as well, because it is claimed anyone who can use the system could take any random person’s photo, match it to a photo in the database and have instant access to personal information. Opponents also say we, at the very least, need public debate about the program before it can operate further.
Supporters hail the benefits for law enforcement. They say this program gives police the power to speed up the criminal identifying process through facial recognition rather than searching through other information, as they have done in the past. Supporters call this a great crime-fighting tool that can save lives and ease the burdens of investigators. As for the secrecy, DeWine has admitted it may be a problem, but supporters also counter it is not a new program, just an extension of an existing process already in use for decades.
The privacy issue spotlight is shining on Ohio now, and the facial recognition component of OLEG is out in the open. Opponents either don’t like it period, or they at least denounce the initial secrecy and want to make sure plenty of discussion happens and oversight is included to protect rights. Supporters stand by technological advancement and the possibilities it offers law enforcement in its efforts to quickly apprehend suspected criminals.
Reach DCP forum moderator Alex Culpepper at AlexCulpepper@DaytonCityPaper.com
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Debate Left: Welcome to your new life in a glass house
By Marianne Stanley
If this were really about our safety, Ohio officials would have immediately and proudly informed us about this grand new technology back in early June when it began. Why the secrecy? Attorney General Mike DeWine acknowledged that it was implemented without notifying the public, without any hearings or opportunities for public input and without any oversight commission or committee set up to monitor it. He tells us not to worry, that we are in good company as one of 26 states that are doing this, as though that matters. Wrong is wrong, no matter how many states are doing it. Every parent knows that the “Everyone else is doing it” excuse is irrelevant, often stupid and almost always unethical. And DeWine’s promise to set up a panel to oversee this is also silly. Who’d be overseeing these government-appointed overseers?
Here’s the real problem. We say we’re OK with this because we naively believe the new system is there to protect us from the “bad guys.” We believe the spiel that it’s a necessity in this age of “terrorists.” Yet, what we fail to understand is that the label of “terrorist” is currently applied to any person or group of us that government decides it doesn’t like. We saw this when the government unleashed military operations against the peaceful “Occupy” movement. We’ve seen environmentalists and peace activists handcuffed and arrested for exercising their rights to peacefully assemble. Whistleblowers – once seen as public heroes – are now labeled traitors, tortured and imprisoned. Violent, lawless SWAT teams now regularly work alongside local police to kick down doors of suspected drug offenders, in outright violation of our Fourth Amendment right to be secure in our own homes unless a warrant is issued. This should be fair warning that none of us are safe anymore from being labeled terrorists by a government that has grown wildly erratic and dangerous in its targeting of harmless citizens.
Most of us haven’t been made aware that this technology, once and for all, deprives us of our fundamental right to anonymously go about our daily lives. This new system now can grant any government agent or employee with access to the NSA’s system, with just the click of his smartphone camera aimed in our direction, access to our name, address and all other once-personal data.
Women, particularly, have reason to fear such a system. Video after video shows police employing thuggish, bullying violence against women who have committed such horrid offenses as speeding or arguing with officers. As civility crumbles and decent citizens are treated like criminals while the true criminals in our society walk free, this newest intrusion should scare us all witless.
And don’t believe the justification that this is helping us get the “bad guy.” If that were so, why has there only been one arrest made from the more than 2,600 database searches conducted by law enforcement in Ohio since June 6?
Governor Ted Kasich and Attorney General DeWine should shut this unwarranted fishing expedition down permanently, unless the following is done: 1) a proper judicial examination of its constitutionality, given that the Fourth Amendment protects us from warrantless searches and seizures; 2) public hearings throughout the state that provide full information on the what’s, where’s, why’s and how’s of this new system; 3) an extended public comment period; 4) a thorough review by a bipartisan, qualified study committee that is elected rather than appointed; and 5) a referendum so that the public casts the deciding vote on implementing such an invasive program.
Like dominoes, our privacy rights and basic freedoms have fallen. We should, at minimum, retain the right to protect our identity and address from strangers. Government cannot show any pressing “need to know” who we are and where we live. People of questionable character exist at all echelons of business and government. Law enforcement is no exception and should be prevented from easy access to such personal information. This new Ohio face recognition technology provides too many people with too many opportunities for abuse. It is just one more step in the wrong direction.
Preying on people’s fears is a time-tested way to get us to accept what we would never otherwise accept. I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever be afraid. In fact, right now, with this new technology and the ever-spreading, widely sweeping surveillance powers of the state, we should be very, very afraid. But that fear should be directed at the loss of our core American values and freedoms rather than at some phantom “terrorist threat.” Call or write Ohio Governor Ted Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine and let them know your privacy is a prized possession and is not for sale at any price, for any reason, ever.
Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who believes many of our nation’s ills could be cured if our children were taught critical thinking skills beginning at the elementary level and continuing through middle and high school. She can be reached at MarianneStanley@DaytonCityPaper.com.
Debate Right: DeWine moves fast to safeguard privacy on new program
By Rob Scott
The Web-based platform – which has more than 30,000 users – provides law enforcement with dozens of investigative tools and training applications to help solve and prevent crime. According to the Ohio Attorney General’s office, Ohio is a leader nationally in providing multiple resources to law enforcement statewide via the Internet. Use of OLEG is limited to law enforcement officers and officials.
A facial recognition system is a computer application for automatically identifying or verifying a person from a digital image or a video frame from a video source. One of the ways to do this is by comparing selected facial features from the image and a facial database.
In Ohio, the program uses this technology to match driver’s license photos and mug shots with other photos to identify crime suspects. It holds the promise of advancing law enforcement.
Ohio’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is arguing that the technology in Ohio is intrusive, ineffective, raises serious privacy concerns and was never announced publicly. Additionally, the ACLU is concerned that the system could be misused by law enforcement and there was no public debate regarding the system before it began operating.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine admitted he should have announced it when the tool was launched in June. In his response to put the appropriate safeguards in place, DeWine formed an advisory group to suggest security protocol changes in the next 60 days to ensure proper use of the system.
Those on the group are: Yvette McGee Brown, former Ohio Supreme Court justice; Eve Stratton, former Ohio Supreme Court justice; James Stevenson, Shelby County common pleas judge; Jan Long, Pickaway County juvenile judge; David Phillips, Union County prosecutor; Dan Jones, Ohio public defenders’ administrative counsel; Phill Stamitt, Lorain County sheriff; Steve Robinetter, Grove City chief of police; and Dr. Kent Harshbarger, Montgomery County coroner. The advisory group’s first meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 10.
DeWine said he believes past prosecution of law enforcement officers who misused the state’s databases will keep officers from using the photo search for personal reasons. Since June, police officers have performed 2,700 searches using the new database feature, which is designed to analyze a snapshot or, in some cases, a security camera image and identify the person by matching the photo with his or her driver’s license photo or police mug shot.
The Attorney General’s office says the system could make it easier to identify a dead body, a confused or mentally ill person or someone who refuses to reveal his or her identity. Law enforcement officers have long been able to look up suspects’ driver’s license photos and mug shots, with laws outlining harsh penalties for misusing the records.
Before the facial recognition system’s development, to find a photo, officers had to know a person’s name, address or, in some cases, license plate number. Now, with facial recognition, people with access to OLEG – Ohio’s law enforcement officers and civilian employees of police departments – can potentially identify any stranger they see or encounter, as long as they have a photo.
Facial recognition software is not new on the national and international law enforcement stage. Tampa, Fla., used the software in 2001 during Super Bowl XXXV. It scanned the crowds as spectators went through the turnstiles and compared the faces with images in a database of known felons and suspected terrorists. The scans spotted 19 people with criminal records, but none were sought by the authorities. After the 9/11 attacks, several airports looked at installing facial recognition cameras as a security measure.
Ultimately, facial recognition software is going to be another tool for law enforcement like fingerprints, DNA, and computer searches. Though privacy concerns are always a constitutional issue regarding governmental searches and investigations, safeguards must be in place to not allow for abuse of the system. Faces are in the public domain, just like when an officer uses a photo lineup with a witness to a crime and the witness identifies a suspect.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has brought his office past the 21st century and is the envy of many other states. Despite not rolling out the facial recognition program with better public relations, ultimately facial recognition will end up being an invaluable tool not only for finding criminals but ruling out innocent people. DeWine has acted swiftly and brought experts in the field to protect Ohio citizens’ privacy.
Rob Scott is a practicing attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, founder of the Dayton Tea Party, and is a Kettering City Councilman He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.gemcitylaw.com.