COLUMBUS — Two former Ohio Supreme Court justices Tuesday raised concerns about the breadth of access to an online search engine for law enforcement that now includes photographs of every Ohioan with a driver’s license.
The former justices were asked by Attorney General Mike DeWine to preside over a new task force created to examine the use of a new facial recognition program using driver’s license photos as well as broader security concerns about the search engine itself.
At one point, when told that the list of those permitted to log on to the database was only updated annually, former Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, a Republican, was visibly concerned.
“People get fired and leave all the time,” she later told reporters. “Updated once a year is not good enough.”
Both she and former Justice Yvette McGee Brown, a Democrat, made it clear they were concerned about the number of employees at criminal justice agencies who can access the system both from work and at home and what steps have been taken to prevent hacking.
Former Justice Brown raised concerns that the system could be abused for purposes other than law enforcement, such as a court employee checking out the new person he or she is dating.
“I know it’s supposed to be for law enforcement purposes, but I’m trying to see what is possible,” she said. “That would be possible.”
There had been cases of employees of criminal justice agencies being prosecuted for a fifth-degree felony for abusing the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway, or OHLEG, even before Bureau of Motor Vehicles photos were added to the database. Those prosecutions came about when someone else reported the violations.
Mr. DeWine created the task force of county judges and local law enforcement representatives to retroactively look at his office’s new application of facial recognition technology to a photo database that, as of June, includes driver’s license photos.
The technology can digitally compare the facial features of someone whose photo is captured by a security camera or a cell phone against mug shots and other images in the database for a possible match.
“The OHLEG system is a godsend for law enforcement,” Lorain County Sheriff Phil Stamitti said. “... But I agree it’s got to be controlled. Is there potential for abuse sometimes? Sure, but I think with any system you have that.”
Mr. DeWine confirmed the photo license practice last month and is expecting recommendations from his new task force by late October. He pledged to enact them whenever possible.
“If it’s my daughter, if it’s your daughter who is raped or assaulted, or your grandmother who’s scammed out of thousands of dollars, you’re going to want law enforcement to have the tools to catch that rapist or to catch the con artist as fast as they can,” he said. “For us not to supply local law enforcement with that technology, I think, would be a dereliction of our duty.”
Former Justice Stratton questioned what Ohio would do if the National Security Agency, already under fire for accumulating data on Americans’ online and phone activities, were to request the state’s database.
“That’s kind of the elephant in the room,” she said. “... Especially when you talk about encryption, the next thing that comes out in the paper is that they’re breaking all the encryption codes.”
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