COLUMBUS — Access to Ohio’s new facial recognition program should be restricted to a trained select few who would serve as a clearinghouse for any law enforcement officer wanting to use it, next year’s expected Democratic candidate for attorney general said Monday.
“We don’t want tens of thousands of people to walk around this state with a smart phone, grabbing photos of everybody to find out who there are,” said David Pepper, a former Hamilton County commissioner. “We don’t want cameras at anti-government rallies taking photos so that everybody who walks into that rally is identified by name.”
While he agreed with Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine that Ohio should embrace the technology, he said it should have gone online only after safeguards were in place to prevent abuse.
In June, Mr. DeWine’s office went live with a facial recognition database that now contains the driver’s license photo of every Ohio motorist.
The program can be used by criminal justice agencies to compare facial images caught by security and surveillance cameras as well as cell phones in hopes of finding a match to identifying a suspect, dead body, or even a victim.
After the program became public knowledge two months after it went live, Mr. DeWine convened a special task force to look at the facial recognition program as well as the security of the broader online search engine also used to access such things as criminal records, the fingerprint database, and school safety plans.
Mr. DeWine’s task force is led by two former Ohio Supreme Court justices who immediately raised questions about the breadth of access to the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway. The panel, also consisting of county judges and representatives of local law enforcement agencies, is expected to issue recommendations on Oct. 25 that Mr. DeWine has committed to institute.
“We are anticipating that Justices [Yvette] McGee Brown and [Evelyn Lundberg] Stratton and the committee will produce a report with good recommendations,” DeWine spokesman Lisa Hackley said.
While the task force already appears to be leaning in the direction of some of the safeguards Mr. Pepper proposed Monday, he said the process started off on the wrong foot with the presumption that the facial recognition program should be part of the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway, or OHLEG.
He said access to the facial recognition program should be more restricted than other databases. His proposal calls for trained state or local employees available around the clock, who would decide on the spot which search is justified, conduct it themselves, and then pass the results on to the requesting officer or agency.
The same process would be used, he said, if it were the FBI, the National Security Agency, or another state making the request.
In addition to restricting access, Mr. Pepper proposed tracking any search request made, having regular outside audits of the system conducted, and creating an independent oversight panel that would watch over the facial recognition program and issue annual reports about its use.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.