Attorney General Dave Yost is shutting off direct access to the state’s facial recognition database of driver’s license photos for thousands of local law enforcement officers, after a review of how and who was using that database.
Yost said the database was not abused or used for mass surveillance or dragnets by federal officials. That has reportedly happened in a few states to find undocumented immigrants. Yost said he wanted the review after those reports surfaced.
But Yost is still cutting off access for 4,549 local officers till they can be trained about the system’s flaws, requiring that they instead work through state investigators at the Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
“Everything is being done well. I want it to be done better…I want to make sure all of our law enforcement and partners that are using this tool are using it properly,” Yost said.
Yost added that he’s also putting together an advisory board to come up with guidelines on how the database can be used while still protecting privacy rights and civil liberties of those with photos in it. And he stresses that the photos are just tools to help with investigations.
Yost’s office said the database contains a total of 24 million images, with 21 million of them coming from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles – and all of those are from no later than 2011.
In the last two years, Ohio’s database was searched more than 11,000 times, nearly always by local law enforcement agencies. Federal agencies performed only 3.8% of searches since 2017. And only 116 searches came from Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE.