Rhode Island DMV Denies Sharing License Photos with FBI for Facial Recognition

The Rhode Island DMV vehemently denied allegations raised by the American Civil Liberties Union about the sharing of driver license photos with the FBI.

by Patrick Anderson, The Providence Journal, R.I. / July 8, 2016

(TNS) -- Responding to concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union, Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles officials Thursday said the state is not negotiating with the FBI to share drivers license photos and has no plans to in the future.

"The Division of Motor Vehicles is not in negotiations with the FBI in regards to sharing driver license photos for use in the federal agency’s facial recognition system – and we absolutely have no plans to do so," Administrator Walter Craddock wrote in an email statement. "This hastily released statement from the ACLU and the ACLU’s [Access to Public Records] request and letter to the DMV are the only times we have heard anything about this topic."

"We are disappointed they did not give the Division the chance to respond to these questions before jumping to this conclusion and unnecessarily alarming Rhode Islanders,” the statement added.

In a June 28 letter to Craddock, ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown asked the state not to let the FBI enter drivers license photos into its facial recognition system, which can matches them against a national criminal database.

The ACLU based its concerns on a May report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which listed Rhode Island among 18 states currently negotiating with the FBI to join the facial recognition program. The GAO report lists 16 states, including Vermont, who have signed agreements that allow the FBI to access drivers license photos for possible matches against the criminal database.

Like Rhode Island, the GAO report lists Massachusetts and Connecticut as being in negotiations with the FBI.

The FBI's Next Generation Identification-Interstate Photo System includes more than 30 million photos and its computer software can identify facial images, such as those captured by a surveillance camera, according to the GAO report.

Brown's letter questioned whether the facial recognition program was constitutional, if the technology is accurate enough to prevent "false positive" matches and whether there is sufficient auditing of the program to prevent potential abuse.

"We believe this sort of significant change in the use and sharing of driver license photos deserves public scrutiny," Brown wrote. "We urge you to refrain from entering into an [memorandum of understanding] with the FBI until members of the public and interested advocacy groups have had the opportunity to review it and to weigh in on the benefits and the costs of such a collaboration."

©2016 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.