Photo: Justin Merriman (Getty Images)

The attorney general of Ohio, Andrew Yost, has suspended facial recognition database access for approximately 4,500 law enforcement personnel after the release of a Washington Post report in July indicating that federal agencies, including the FBI and Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), had obtained access to such systems in several states, per the Toledo Blade. That report indicated that federal law enforcement had used accessed the state databases to search not just for suspects, but witnesses, victims, and others, and all without any oversight or approval by federal or state legislatures.

Yost told reporters that his office had found “zero evidence” that officers in Ohio had abused their access to the database and that the feds had only run a limited number of searches, according to the Blade, but did call for additional training:

“The bottom line is there were no dragnets, there was no mass surveillance, and in fact all the federal agencies that accessed the facial recognition system represented [less than 4 percent] of those searches,” Mr. Yost said. “The things that were implied in that Washington Post story were not true as they apply to Ohio.”

... Mr. Yost’s report found the facial-recognition database is primarily used by state and local agencies, which have made 2,307 inquires this year as of July 31. There were 99 federal searches in that period, 83 of which came from ICE and U.S. Border Patrol.

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Searches will now have to be run through the Ohio state Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), Yost said, though he also argued that privacy concerns are overblown because those in the database had willfully submitted their photos to the BMV to obtain a license. Ohio makes approximately 24 million photos which accessible to 25 different federal agencies, the Blade wrote, though according to the Columbus Dispatch the system hasn’t been updated with new data since 2011, when the BMV transferred responsibility for it to the BCI.

According to the Dispatch, while state law enforcement could run checks directly through the database, the FBI had to request the BCI run checks for them. Though Yost’s decision yanks that access until the additional training is complete, the Dispatch wrote, he told reporters within Ohio “There were no dragnets, there was no mass surveillance.”

Yost is also examining the possibility of updating the system with fresh data, the paper added.

While anything resembling a complete and coherent system of national safeguards against possible abuses of facial recognition technology has yet to materialize, digital rights group Fight for the Future called for a total ban of the use of such systems by the federal government. San Francisco and Somerville, Massachusetts have already implemented their own bans applying to local authorities, making them the only two cities in the U.S. to do so.

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“Invasive surveillance technology like facial recognition is spreading extremely quickly,” Fight for the Future deputy director Evan Greer told Gizmodo. “It’s being marketed as ‘convenient’ and for ‘public safety,’ but it’s putting us on a path to a totalitarian police state. Backlash to the spread of face surveillance is growing. But if we don’t act now, it will soon become ubiquitous, and then it could be too late.”

[The Blade]

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