Attorney general: DMV’s use of facial recognition is illegal

July 18, 2017 GMT

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Attorney General T.J. Donovan said Tuesday that an investigation by his department has determined that the state Department of Motor Vehicle’s use of facial recognition technology is illegal and should continue to be suspended.

The technology can only be used if the Legislature gives the DMV authority to use biometric technology, Donovan said. DMV Commissioner Rob Ide said he’d abide by that decision.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott asked that the program which compares digital images to a database of photographs for matches be suspended in May pending a legal review by Donovan after concerns were raised by the Vermont Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.


“We are glad the Attorney General values Vermonters’ privacy and agrees that DMV’s facial recognition program is patently illegal,” said ACLU of Vermont’s staff attorney Jay Diaz Tuesday. “Forcing Vermonters to give up the equivalent of a fingerprint in exchange for the ability to drive, and sending their photos and personal information to agencies around the country, is unlawful and ineffective.”

The ACLU also questions the accuracy of the technology.

Nearly 50 jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada are using facial recognition in some way, according to the American Association of Motor Vehicles.

Vermont started using the software in 2012. It’s employed along with other techniques for fraud detection, said Ide.

“So this became another tool in our toolbox,” he said. “We’re still using those other techniques. No tool is absolutely perfect.”

The facial recognition program allows state and federal government agencies to submit photographs to the state DMV to search for matches in a database of 2.6 million images that include multiple images of the same people as they’ve aged. In some cases, the person authorities hope to identify is not accused of any crime, Diaz said.

The DMV has responded to requests from the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. State Department and police departments from around the country, said the ACLU.

The recognition technology has been used to locate the girlfriend of an alleged fugitive, immigrants believed to have overstayed their visas and, in one case, a man who authorities said asked suspicious questions at a local gun shop, the ACLU said.

Ide said the department has not run all the search requests it’s received because some were not worthy. The state also is very clear that the search provides a number of images, not an absolute one-to-one match, he said.

“That practice is suspended and will not be restarted unless there’s legislative action,” Ide said.