TrendGrowth of facial recognition biometrics, II

Published 17 March 2008

Some twenty states already use facial recognition in their DMVs, and more states are planning to do so; the federal government incorporates facial recognition in some of its important initiatives; privacy advocates are concerned that the technology is becoming too pervasive

On Friday we wrote that facial recognition biometric technology is gaining, and as Washington Technology’s Alice Lipowicz reported, DMVs in about twenty states now use the technology, with more planning to do so. The growing use of the technology has been accompanied by a growing chorus of concern and criticism, especially in states in which the drivers’ photos are being shared or may be shared with other states and with law enforcement agencies. Police departments, eager for more investigative tools, are pressing for access to the millions of photographs in the motor vehicle databases. Some states prohibit such sharing, but many allow it. In Massachusetts, there have been media reports of the Registry of Vehicles’ database of faces being used as a crime-fighting tool. In Pinellas County, Florida, police officers use facial-recognition tools on booking photographs. In Illinois, driver’s license photos are shared with the state police and on request with local law enforcement agencies. Such mission creep poses a danger to privacy and could lead to intrusive surveillance and tracking, said Jay Stanley, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Lipowicz writes that nonetheless, use of facial-recognition technology for law enforcement is an expanding area. An executive at Digimarc, which currently supplies facial-recognition technologies to about thirteen state motor vehicle departments, said the capability is shared with law enforcement in six states, and there is growing demand for it. People use the technology to identify the homeless, deceased, Alzheimer’s patients, and criminals, said Kevin O’Leary, senior product line manager for biometrics at Digimarc. “We are also seeing interest in using it in intelligence fusion centers,” he said. “There is a growing understanding of the connection between false identifications and support for criminal activity.” In addition to fraud control, the Real ID Act is driving some opportunities, although it does not explicitly require use of facial recognition or sharing of photos, industry experts said. The next frontier may be sharing photographs and facial-recognition capabilities among states to discover individuals who have multiple identities in several states. The American Association of Motor Vehicles sponsors the Digital Image Exchange program, a secure network which lets several states share driver’s license photos. It is primarily used for one-to-one matching, in which a state sends a photo and name of an applicant to the state of the applicant’s former residence, asking to verify that the previous photos match the current images. The system does not do one-to-many searches to look for multiple aliases for the same photo in other states, association spokesman Jason King said. Out-of-state sharing may become more popular eventually if the privacy issues can be addressed, Nanavati said. “It has strong security benefits, but that is when you run into greater privacy and legality concerns,” he said.

Several other projects and developments are driving growth in facial recognition:

* The State Department uses it for its database of foreign visa applicants’ facial images, which it has been building since 2004 under a contract with L-1 Identity Solutions. The system was developed at State to reduce visa-related identity fraud.

* The FBI’s $1 billion Next Generation Identification system is being built to add face and palm print biometrics databases to the crime-fighting arsenal. It also will make it easier to share data from the existing fingerprint system. The FBI chose Lockheed Martin Corp. Feb. 12 as the prime contractor.

* DHS’s U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program is experimenting with multimodal biometrics, including facial recognition, said Director Robert Mocny. US-VISIT collects fingerprints from visa applicants and shares that information with other agencies.

New technologies for 3-D facial recognition and new algorithms for greater accuracy are being developed. For now, Lipowicz writes, we should expect to see more motor vehicle offices adopting the technology, industry experts said. More sharing with law enforcement and with other states might come later if privacy can be protected. “Facial recognition is getting to a point where it really has a high degree of potential acceptance. But it is not yet capable in covert and facein- the-crowd applications,” said Walter Hamilton, chairman of the International Biometric Industry Association. “In my view, facial recognition at state motor vehicle departments is one of the most logical applications. It works the best,” said Jeremy Grant, senior vice president at Stanford Group. investment research firm.