CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, February 19, 2007

Using DMV Photo Databases to Detect Fraud

From At least seven states have or are working on enormous databases of driver’s license photographs. Coupled with increasingly accurate facial-recognition technology, the databases may become a radical innovation in law enforcement.

Other biometric databases are more useful for now. But DNA and fingerprint information, for instance, are not routinely collected from the general public. Most adults, on the other hand, have a driver’s license with a picture on it, meaning that the relevant databases for facial-recognition analysis already exist. And while the current technology requires good-quality photographs, the day may not be far off when images from ordinary surveillance cameras will routinely help solve crimes.

Critics say the databases may therefore also represent a profound threat to privacy.

“What is the D.M.V.?” asked Lee Tien, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a privacy advocate. “Does it license motor vehicles and drivers? Or is it really an identification arm of law enforcement?”

The databases are primarily intended to prevent people from obtaining multiple licenses under different names. That can help prevent identity theft and stop people who try to get a second license after their first has been suspended.

“The states are finding hundreds of cases of fraud each year in each state,” said J. Scott Carr, executive vice president of the Digimarc Corporation, which says it has sold biometric technology to motor vehicle departments in seven states and has a role in the production of more than two-thirds of all driver’s licenses in the United States.

But the databases can also be used for law enforcement purposes beyond detecting fraud.

A page concerning Mr. Howell, printed out from the “America’s Most Wanted” Web site, is taped to the wall of the investigators’ office here. It is a kind of trophy. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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