Driver’s License Emerges as Crime-Fighting Tool, but Privacy Advocates Worry
As part of an experiment last year, three facial-recognition specialists in Massachusetts ran a photo from the Web site of America’s Most Wanted against the state’s database of 9 million digital driver’s license photographs.
The mug shot closely resembled a driver’s license photograph with a different name, and after alerting the authorities, the police were able to track down and arrest the suspect in New York City, where he was receiving welfare benefits under the alias on the driver’s license.
At least six other states are developing or have already acquired similar driver’s license databases which, when combined with facial-recognition technology, can be used as a powerful law enforcement tool.
Analysts use the technology to check about 5,000 new driver’s license photographs every day using a computer algorithm to check about 8,000 facial points. The computer is unable to make a perfect match, and an analysis needs to check the narrowed field after the computer is finished. In turn, the majority of computer matches are rejected.
Though DNA and fingerprint databases are better for placing a suspect at a crime scene, DNA samples and fingerprints are not collected from the public.
The majority of adults do have driver’s licenses, and even though current technology requires a good-quality photo, the potential to link an unknown suspect to a name through their driver’s license is promising.
Facial-recognition technology can be used to help prevent identity theft and to stop people from obtaining a second driver’s license under a false name.
Abstracted by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) from the New York Times (02/17/07); Liptak, Adam.