At least seven states have or are working on enormous databases of driver's license photographs that, coupled with increasingly accurate facial-recognition technology, may become a radical innovation in law enforcement, the New York Times reports. While current technology requires good-quality photographs, the day may not be far off when images from ordinary surveillance cameras will routinely help solve crimes.
Critics say the databases may also represent a threat to privacy. Lee Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a privacy advocate asks whether a motor vehicles department is “an identification arm of law enforcement.” Anne Collins, Massachusetts registrar of motor vehicles, said that people seeking a driver's license implicitly consent to allowing their images to be used for other purposes. “One of the things a driver's license has become,” she said, “is evidence that you are who you say you are.” The databases are primarily intended to prevent people from obtaining multiple licenses under different names. That can help prevent identity theft and stop people who try to get a second license after their first has been suspended. States find many cases of fraud each year, said J. Scott Carr of the Digimarc Corporation, which has sold biometric technology to motor vehicle departments in seven states and says it has a role in the production of two-thirds of all U.S. driver's licenses.