Knoxville recently added its third self-service kiosk designed for convenient driver’s license renewal. This kiosk, like the forty others in Tennessee, functions using biometric facial recognition technology to recognize the driver. As of 2013, agencies in thirty-seven states, including the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, were using a database of photos for facial recognition: amounting to an estimated 120 million Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) photos kept in databases around the nation.
Be aware, though that the implications go beyond saving a trip to the DMV. State law enforcement officials use these photographs to identify suspects of criminal activity. In fact, a man was recently arrested in Waterloo, Iowa while attempting to obtain a driver’s license under a false identity. He had escaped from prison forty years ago in North Carolina and was caught by using this facial recognition technology.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has been at the forefront of implementing an inter-state sharing of these images. Moreover, the FBI is building a database of photos for the same purpose. While the source of these images has not been entirely disclosed, the company responsible for building the database also maintains thirty-five state DMV databases as well as databases for several commercial entities. The aspect troubling privacy activists is that when the FBI conducts a search, it will return results from both criminal and non-criminal sources.
Facebook uses similar facial recognition technology to make “tag” suggestions to users. Retailers are already using this technology to spot known shoplifters and criminals in their stores. Perhaps more troubling (to your wallet at least) are the plans to spot “VIP” customers, i.e. big spenders. Naturally, the culmination of these uses raises legal concerns over their use under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and The Privacy Act of 1974. To date, there have been no court opinions addressing the constitutionality of what amounts to the collection of a “faceprint.” However, as the use of this technology continues to grow, citizens’ concern is likely to grow as well. Have you considered what use law enforcement agencies have for the photos too many citizens post to the internet with identifying information?
The lawyers at Oberman & Rice are thankful for the technology that makes life easier for Tennessee citizens. However, we must all be careful not to let convenience interfere with the constitutional rights that protect the citizens of Tennessee and others from unwarranted searches and seizures. Call attorney Steve Oberman at (865) 249-7200 if you believe your constitutional rights have been violated in the course of a DUI arrest or investigation. You may not realize that many driving under the influence (DUI) or impaired driving cases are dismissed due to the constitutional violations of local police and other law enforcement officers.
Mr. Oberman would also like to recognize and thank Tim Jones, a third year law student at the University of Tennessee College of Law, for his assistance in researching this blog post.