Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is temporarily suspending the use of facial recognition software until law enforcement officers undergo training, but the Ohio ACLU is still concerned and has said that the state should debate whether to even use the software at all.
Yost’s announcement came after his office conducted a 30-day review that determined the software had not been abused by law enforcement to conduct mass surveillance, broad dragnets, political targeting or any other illegitimate uses. Although no abuse was found, he decided to create a civil liberties-focused advisory panel and require training for those who use the software because many people still had concerns about the technology.
“I share the privacy and civil-liberty concerns of those who fear misuse of this powerful identification technology,” Yost said in a news release. “Ohio’s database is protected by limited access, regular auditing and strict rules about the kind of searches that can be conducted. That applies to state and local law enforcement as well as federal law enforcement.”
Ohio created a database with which local, state or federal law enforcement officers can access all of the state’s driver’s license photographs for the purpose of facial recognition, which means that most of Ohio’s adult population is in the database. A report by The Washington Post showed that federal agencies, including the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), could gain access to these databases if they comply with state regulations.
Regulations require that an agency can only use the facial recognition software in a database if it is used to solve or prevent a crime in an ongoing criminal matter, to address an imminent threat to help or identify a person who cannot identify himself or herself.
The report found that the facial recognition database only made up 3.8 percent of facial recognition searches between Jan. 1 2017 and July 31, 2019. Out of the 11,070 searches, only 418 were conducted by federal agencies, which include the FBI, ICE, Border Patrol and the Drug Enforcement Agency, among others. All other searches were from local law enforcement, courts or other criminal agencies.
The ACLU of Ohio has continued to express concern over the use of facial recognition.
“With ongoing concerns about Ohio’s use of facial recognition and numerous problems with the technology itself, the ACLU of Ohio believes we must do more than better train law enforcement on its use,” Ohio ACLU Chief Lobbyist Gary Daniels told The Center Square in a statement via email.
“It is time to debate whether Ohio should be using it at all,” Daniels said. “Privacy concerns, persistent inaccuracies, and its potential for abuse all weigh against continuing the use of this risky technology.”
Gov. Mike DeWine had come under scrutiny for a 2016 memorandum when he was the attorney general that made it easier for the FBI to use facial recognition software for the state’s license database. However, DeWine has maintained that no abuses of the software were found under his watch.