A recent news article addressed an aspect of the expanding surveillance state that many people may not have considered. The Washington Post had an article about how state photo identification databases can be a tool for police. Specifically, we are talking about driver's licenses and state photo identification cards. With the growth of technology, the personal information and photograph are held in a computer database when you obtain such a card. The driver submitted to the photograph as a means of showing that the individual was qualified to operate a vehicle or to prove their identify for a variety of civil activities.
These databases are now being re-purposed by law enforcement for use in criminal investigations. Sophisticated facial recognition software can now be used to compare images quickly to narrow down possible identities of crime suspects. The technology is not yet as reliable as fingerprint technology but that may change as time goes by. It may also be improved as states begin to capture higher resolution images at the time of the card issuance.
I am involved in a case where this technology was used to identify that a person may have previously been issued a license under a different identity.
Georgia law allows police access to a driver's record and personal information maintained by the Department of Drivers Services in connection with a criminal investigation.
Such identifications are not definitive but can certainly bring law enforcement attention to people who did nothing more than comply with the state's requirements for issuance of a driver's license.
Current technology allows patrol cars to be equipped to read the license plates of all vehicles passing near the patrol car and provide registration information on the vehicles and any suspended or revoked status or alerts connected to the vehicle. Facial recognition technology will someday be able to scan and identify persons passing near the camera just as quickly and provide the same type of access to information about the person. The current level of technology is not quite so sophisticated.
Some states have these databases but restrict them from being used by law enforcement. As we consider the privacy concerns associated with government monitoring of telephone and email communications, some consideration should be given to the use of facial recognition technology across databases amassed for quite another purpose.
Sean A. Black is a Northeast Georgia attorney who handles an array of serious criminal defense issues. We are available for consultation on federal and state law offenses.