New York City

No more phony IDs from the DMV thanks to improved facial recognition technology

But Privacy Issues Worry Many

August 22, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Department of Motor Vehicles’ upgrade of facial recognition software has allowed law enforcement to catch an increased number of fraudsters attempting to obtain second IDs, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Monday. Shown above is a sample of a New York State license. Photo courtesy of the NYS DMV
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It’s gotten much harder to obtain a New York State driver’s license under false pretenses since the state upgraded its facial recognition technology 18 months ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday.

Since launching the system at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in 2010, New York has red flagged more than 21,000 possible cases of identity theft or fraud. However, more than a third of these cases were generated since the software upgrade in January 2016, Cuomo said.

Out of the 21,000 possible cases, more than 4,000 have been arrested and more than 16,000 people face some sort of administrative action, according to the governor’s release.

Facial recognition software uses algorithms of facial characteristics – such as measurements of cheekbones or the distance between eye pupils — to compare driver’s license images with other DMV images and identify people who have two or more identities.

The 2016 upgrade doubled the number of measurement points mapped to each driver’s photograph from 64 to 128, improving the system’s ability to match a picture to one that already exists in the database.

The system also allows for the ability to overlay images, invert colors and convert images to black and white to better see scars and identifying features on the face. Different hair styles, glasses and other features that can be easily changed do not prevent the system from matching photographs, according to the Governor’s Office.

“The use of this facial recognition technology has allowed law enforcement to crack down on fraud, identity theft, and other offenses — taking criminals and dangerous drivers off our streets and increasing the safety of New York’s roadways,” Cuomo said in a statement

“New York has a simple policy: one driver, one record. If your license is suspended or revoked, the days of getting a second one to try to keep driving are over,” added DMV Executive Deputy Commissioner Terri Egan.

New York is also collaborating with New Jersey to snag people attempting to obtain a driver’s license in each state.

In a three year study conducted by Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research (ITSMR), around half of those identified as having multiple license records via facial recognition obtained the second record when their original license was suspended or revoked.

The state provided several examples of scammers who were caught in the system.

* For example, a furniture mover who stole a customer’s identity tried to obtain a New York driver license under the customer’s name but was denied. He then flew to Florida, obtained a license under the customer’s name there, leased a car, took $50,000 cash from the victim’s account and was receiving a shipment of fraudulently charged furniture when arrested.

* In another case, a driver with two commercial driver’s licenses purchased the identity of a man jailed in Puerto Rico. The driver owned a trucking company under his true name but had four DWI convictions under that identity. He used the second identity to obtain another commercial license and continued to drive his company vehicles. When he was arrested, investigators found that the same stolen identity had been used by three other individuals to obtain licenses in Connecticut, Florida and Massachusetts.

* Law enforcement also found a man who used a stolen ID, as well as his real identification, to collect Social Security benefits under both names. He also got a passport under the false name.

* Another suspect with two identifications worked and owned a home under his real name but collected unemployment under the false identity.

Facial recognition: Privacy issues

As effective as it can be, critics have raise concerns about the software’s potential to invade people’s privacy.

In May 2016, the General Accounting Office (GAO) found that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had not fully adhered to privacy laws and had not taken sufficient action to help ensure accuracy of its own facial recognition technology.

The FBI’s biometric database, when combined with other government data bases it has access to, may include almost half of U.S. adults, according to the GAO.

According to a paper published in the December 2012 edition of the journal IEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security, facial recognition systems are less accurate in identifying African-Americans, women and people between the ages of 18 to 30, making members of these groups more apt to be falsely accused.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center reports that the FBI proposed in 2016 exempt its “Next Generation Identification” database from Privacy Act safeguards—including requirements for accuracy, relevancy, and transparency.

In a Congressional hearing in March, both Republicans and Democrats were skeptical that law enforcement agencies could keep a lid on privacy issues.

At the hearing, Rep. John Duncan (R-Tennessee) said, “I think we’re reaching a very sad point, a very dangerous point, when we’re doing away with the reasonable expectation of privacy about anything,” according to NBC.

The FBI has access to information in approximately 18 state databases. New York, however, is not yet sharing its database with the FBI, according to the GAO.

Facial recognition technology is soon to be installed on cellphones. According to Bloomberg, the new iPhone 8 will be able to use the technology to unlock the phone and make payments. An infrared sensor will allow this feature to work in the dark.


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