Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s office confirmed that the FBI had accessed the state’s facial-recognition database three times in the past year, but said none of the searches involved millions of driver’s licenses.
(TNS) — In the past year, the FBI ran three searches using Ohio’s facial-recognition database, though none involved any of the millions of Ohio driver’s license photos uploaded to the database, according to Attorney General Dave Yost’s office.
However, Yost’s office has yet to provide other details about the database, such as exactly which other federal agencies have access to the system, which is restricted to law-enforcement officials.
Two of the three FBI searches using the database involved using two different photos of one person and running it against those in the facial recognition application, according to an email from Yost spokesman Dave O’Neil. O’Neil did not immediately answer a question seeking details about the third search.
It’s still unclear how often the FBI and other federal agencies –– such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement –– used Ohio’s facial-recognition database under Yost’s predecessor, now-Gov. Mike DeWine. Both O’Neil and DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney have yet to respond to questions seeking that information.
O’Neil did state that while the FBI was allowed to access Ohio’s facial recognition program, the AG’s office has not directly given the FBI copies of the photos in the database, as has occurred in some other states.
Ohio’s facial-recognition program, part of the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG) network overseen by the AG’s office, was set up around 2011 to help local, state and federal law-enforcement officials identify suspects in criminal investigations. State officials say the program has been useful in a number of criminal cases.
The database, which also includes mug shots and other photos, has come under scrutiny this week following reports that it and similar programs in other states have turned driver’s license records into a “facial-recognition gold mine” for the FBI and other federal agencies.
The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles provided a cache of license photos to the database around 2011, but it hasn’t sent any photos since then, according to O’Neil and DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney.
As of late Thursday afternoon, O’Neil didn’t answer a number of questions posed to him by cleveland.com about other parts of the program, including exactly how many Ohio driver’s license photos have been uploaded to the database and whether there’s a way for Ohioans to check whether their photos have ever been shared with the FBI.
DeWine, speaking with reporters Thursday morning, noted that as attorney general, he set up two separate advisory boards that drew up limits on how the facial-recognition database could be used. Among the limits set up was that users can only access the database for a specific case, not for general sweeps.
"Anybody who used that facial recognition from the state of Ohio should have been following the rules and regulations that were set out –– very strict rules –– by Ohio citizens in that [advisory] group," he said.
The governor also noted that law enforcement has used BMV pictures for decades – long before facial-recognition technology was developed -- to help identify criminals.
“The tool of facial recognition just allows for this process to be much, much quicker," DeWine said.
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