Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine formally announces use of facial recognition 2 months after launch

Says his office should have notified public

CINCINNATI -- Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine formally announced the use of facial recognition technology Monday, but in hindsight said his office should have notified the public of its existence two months ago.

Since June 6, law enforcement agencies throughout the state completed 2,677 facial recognition searches by tapping into the existing Bureau of Motor Vehicles database.

For example, throughout the course of an investigation, law enforcement officials may obtain an image of a suspect from surveillance video and, for the last two months, have been able to crosscheck a photo using the BMV’s database of driver’s license photos using facial recognition technology, DeWine said at a press conference in Columbus.

The system has been in development for the last three years, DeWine said. Approximately 28 states and the FBI employ some sort of facial recognition technology, DeWine said.

DeWine told reporters he didn't think he needed to notify the public about the program's launch because it's been long discussed during meetings with law enforcement agencies and groups.

Plus, he said, officers have had the ability for decades to access photos and records from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. "It's a natural extension of what law enforcement has done in the past," he said.

“If I had to do it over again, we would have put out a release the day it went up,” DeWine said.

Law enforcement agencies have always been able to access BMV records through the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG), but the use of facial recognition technology is an added tool, DeWine said.

The technology works by measuring points on a human face, such as the length of a person’s nose or the shape of a person’s cheekbones and the width between a person’s eyes, DeWine said.

“It is not as exact, certainly, as DNA or as exact as fingerprints,” DeWine said. “Its purpose is to give the investigator a lead that he or she can follow-up on.”

The technology is geared toward harnessing the increasing use of surveillance cameras that are becoming a standard investigative tool, including Cincinnati. There are approximately 130 cameras in the city today and plans call for the installation of more with the use of federal grants funds.

The six officers at the city’s real-time crime center have pulled video from the city’s 130 cameras 74 times through Aug. 1. That’s compared to 93 in all of 2012 and 57 times in 2011, according to Lt. Lisa Thomas, supervisor of CPD’s intelligence unit.

Through a series of Port Security Grant Program grants, a function of the Department of Homeland Security, CPD is able to access and operate some 25 cameras along the Ohio River. There are plans to increase the that number to 30 and to have surveillance stretching west to the Caroll C. Cropper Bridge and east to Combs-Hehl Bridge, said Barry Whitton, a computer systems analyst with CPD’s technology and systems section.

Law enforcement officials follow the same rules used for accessing information through OHLEG, a web-based platform accessing a number of databases, including the computerized criminal history files, the electronic sexual offender registration and notification, department of rehabilitation and correction, BMV, LEADS and the Ohio Law Enforcement Sharing Network, according to the attorney general’s office.

There are no routine audits of law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology or database, rather, prosecution of any misuse is primarily done through people reporting others’ abuse, DeWine said.

“The best deterrent is jail,” DeWine said.

Misuse is a fifth-degree felony, said Jill Del Greco, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office.

“I’ve asked our team to go back and try to gather information about how its being used, so we can then turn that over (to an independent group),” DeWine said.

DeWine’s office is assembling an independent group of judges, lawyers and other law enforcement officials to review practices and protocols of the facial recognition technology, but the details and who will sit on the “working group” has not been finalized, Del Greco said. She expected that information to be finalized later this week.

“The time for press conferences and advisory boards was months ago,” said ACLU of Ohio Associate Director Gary Daniels. “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.”

Previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search the state database of license photos and mug shots. Now, police officers and even civilian employees can use a simple photo to search these databases for names and contact information.

Associated Press writer Ann Sanner contributed to this report.

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