OHIO — Ohio citizens were shocked to learn that law enforcement, including civilian employees of police departments, have had access to a database of millions of images for facial recognition since early June. This database has been accessed thousands of times in the short two months that it has been online, all without informing the public of its existence.
After the program’s exposure, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine staunchly defended it, even after admitting that he himself did not know that the program was being used until two weeks after its launch. “I never thought there would be a big concern about it simply because over half of the states do it. It’s a natural extension of what law enforcement has done in the past. There are no new pictures that are being created to put in this database. Law enforcement has historically, for decades, had access to the BMV records,” the Toledo Blade quoted DeWine as saying.
“It was not anything that I thought was out of the ordinary, and it’s not anything out of the ordinary,” DeWine told the Associated Press.
Known as the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway, the database consists of over 21 million photos compiled from the state’s driver’s license photos and police mug shots that are being used in facial recognition software to identify citizens from numerous sources, including surveillance footage. Law enforcement has claimed that using the database has already produced multiple success stories, but privacy advocates are not convinced.
“We don’t even know if it’s constitutional,” Ohio Sen. Shirley Smith, D-Cleveland, told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “We know that it’s an invasion of privacy. I understand that he’s the attorney general, but I think we should have been apprised of it before it hit the street.”
After The Cincinnati Enquirer broke the story, DeWine announced at a press conference Monday morning that a task force would be formed to address privacy concerns and security protocols of the new system. According to the Columbus Dispatch, the nine appointees to the task force are Yvette McGee Brown and Evelyn Stratton, former Ohio Supreme Court justices; James Stevenson, Shelby County Common Pleas judge; Jan Long, Pickaway County juvenile judge; David Phillips, Union County prosecutor; Dan Jones, Ohio Public Defender administrative counsel; Phil Stamitti, Lorain County sheriff; Steve Robinette, Grove City police chief, and Dr. Kent Harshbarger, Montgomery County coroner. The ACLU was denied a position on the task force after requesting a seat, ensuring that only former and current government officials have a say in the privacy protections given to Ohioans.
Can we trust the government to ensure that police will use this information ethically and responsibly, with no legislative or civilian oversight?
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