Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has announced that law enforcement officers will now need to undergo training in order to gain access to the state’s Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG), which includes the state’s facial recognition database. Until then, the AG is cutting off access to thousands of state officials, dropping the number of people with clearance from 4,549 to 20.
The number is expected to climb once more officers complete their training, although the final tally is unlikely to reach the previous total. The move was made following an internal investigation in the wake of a Washington Post report that found that many states – including Ohio – were using facial recognition without the knowledge of their citizens. Ohio has also granted access to the system to the FBI and other federal organizations.
The OHLEG database includes roughly 24 million photos, most of which are pulled from old driver’s licenses from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV). The system does not include any driver’s licenses after 2011, although Yost indicated that he would like to update the system with more recent photos.
In that regard, Yost was dismissive of people’s privacy concerns, essentially telling reporters that citizens should have no expectation of privacy with regards to their BMV photos. He said that the new training is not a response to the Washington Post report, but is being implemented make law enforcement agents more aware of the limitations of facial recognition tech, including racial and gender biases.
At the moment, the OHLEG database is used to identify suspects and unknown persons, such as dead bodies. Yost noted that the tech is only used to assist investigations, and that a facial recognition match is not enough to secure a warrant. He categorically denied the possibility that anyone had misused the system.
While privacy advocates will likely welcome Yost’s decision to put limits on OHLEG, they probably won’t take much comfort in his reasoning, especially given law enforcement’s apparent eagerness to use facial recognition. Trials in New York and Orlando have proven to be duds so far, but police departments continue to defend its use with enough energy to trigger bans in Oakland and San Francisco.
The news out of Ohio is unlikely to settle the debate, and highlights why many citizens have expressed doubts about the unmonitored use of facial recognition tech.
August 15, 2019 – by Eric Weiss