Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Fri, Oct. 18

Editorial: Facial recognition, stuff of Hollywood, not best — yet



The national media reports have been numerous in recent days: “The FBI and ICE can actually access and scan your driver’s license picture, and get other information about you, using technology that’s the stuff of Hollywood.”

That aired five days ago on CNN.

But Arizona Department of Transportation officials said this week they are not regularly sharing your driver’s license photo with federal agencies, something that is happening in other states.

A spokesman did say ADOT does use “facial recognition software,” but only for internal use – to ensure that people who already have a license here do not try to get another one.

That’s good.

Facial recognition software takes a digital photo and compares it with other pictures, like what you see on TV shows such as “NCIS.”

The slippery slope is a “big brother” situation, akin to George Orwell’s book, “1984,” which centered on the risks of government overreach, totalitarianism, and control of people and their behaviors.

The 2019 model involves searching for people who are in the country illegally, such as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students who have licenses.

While ADOT does respond to requests for information – and facial recognition data – from federal and state law enforcement agencies, there are restrictions. It has to be a legitimate request, such as including a court order.

ADOT is not an agency abusing the system, such as trying to see if someone caught on surveillance matches anyone already in the system.

According to lists online, about a dozen states allow photographs in their databases for use with facial recognition efforts – including Vermont, Utah and Washington. Arizona is reportedly not among them.

Our concern is how facial recognition technology is not fully proven and is largely unregulated, according to The Washington Post. Airlines could use it, instead of issuing a boarding pass, for instance; this is a practice that is being tested at JetBlue “e-gates,” such as those at John F. Kennedy Airport, and is reportedly arriving at airports across the United States.

It would be a convenience trap: good for the moment and efficiency but, on a large scale, it could be part of a scan that looks for people among photos of those who are not suspected of crimes. And it reportedly does not work in 15% or more of tests.

Additionally, the US has yet to broach how this data should be stored and tracked, so that it is not stolen.

That would be a whole new level in identity theft.

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