In most states, the driver’s license serves as a prime form of identification, which has prompted more stringent controls and checks. More than 30 states have adopted facial recognition technology to help reduce fraud and ensure the identification accuracy. The problem is, the process isn’t perfect.
“John H. Gass hadn’t had a traffic ticket in years, so the Natick resident was surprised this spring when he received a letter from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles informing him to cease driving because his license had been revoked,” reported the Boston Globe.
It took a lengthy series of telephone calls and a hearing for Gass to discover the problem’s origin. The state’s facial recognition system, which scans a database of millions of license images for potential fraud, had flagged his license because he looked similar to another driver. Correcting the problem was complicated because Gass had recently moved.
The system compares a driver’s license picture stored in the state’s database with other license photographs. The software flags any licenses found with similar-looking photographs to prevent people from having more than one driver’s license under assumed names. Typically, someone wanting multiple licenses would use them for various illicit purposes. This might include minors who have fake IDs in order to purchase alcohol, or a person with a suspended license attempting to secure a new license.
A Department of Motor Vehicles employee is supposed to check each match carefully before taking further action. This step is designed to rule out any problems with the system, such as might be possible with identical twins.
“His driving privileges were returned but, he alleges in a lawsuit, only after 10 days of bureaucratic wrangling,” noted the newspaper. No records have been kept, since the system was installed in 2006 that tracks how many Massachusetts residents may have been subject to similar mistakes.
“What happens when a false positive impacts someone’s driving record, criminal history or other sensitive information?” asks Popular Science.
It’s a good question, for which there has yet to be an answer, even despite years’ protestation. Yet, more of these types of systems are being provided to law enforcement to form a digital dragnet for scofflaws. This particular system — designed to prevent identify theft and fraud — was reportedly purchased with a $1.5 million U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant. The Boston Globe was told by the software’s developer that it should reduce fraud by 80%.
The Massachusetts officials contend that keeping the public safe vastly outweighs any inconvenience experienced by Gass or anyone else.