By Ann Sanner
COLUMBUS: Local and state law enforcement have used facial recognition software several thousand times since June to match images of possible suspects and victims to pictures on Ohio drivers’ licenses, the state’s attorney general confirmed Monday.
The Cincinnati Enquirer first reported the details of the software’s use by police and other law enforcement officials.
Attorney General Mike DeWine told reporters he didn’t think he needed to notify the public about the program’s launch because it long has been discussed during meetings with law enforcement agencies and groups.
Plus, he said, officers have had the ability for decades to access photos and records from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. “It’s a natural extension of what law enforcement has done in the past,” he said.
But DeWine acknowledged that if he could do it over, he would have published a news release either before or at the time the program was put into action.
“It was not anything that I thought was out of the ordinary, and it’s not anything out of the ordinary,” he said.
So far, the facial recognition program has been used almost 2,677 times since June 6, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
No one has been charged as a result of its use, and no new pictures are being collected for a database.
DeWine, a Republican who faces re-election next year, defended the software as helping to save lives and solve crimes. “For us not to do this would be a dereliction of our duty to the people of the state of Ohio to protect them,” he said.
DeWine’s Democratic challenger criticized him for not announcing the details of the program sooner.
“It is highly irresponsible for the Attorney General of Ohio to launch something this expansive and this intrusive into the lives of law-abiding citizens without ensuring the proper protocols were already in place to protect our privacy,” candidate David Pepper said in a written statement.
DeWine said he felt confident that current state law protects against the misuse of the facial recognition program. Though he said he’s convening a group of judges, public defenders, sheriffs, and others to review whether the state should have additional security protocols in place. He said he expects their recommendations in 60 days.
The attorney general said his office did not need approval from the General Assembly to use the technology.
On other topics, DeWine said:
• His office is hiring six forensic scientists, at an annual cost of $400,000, to help examine decades of untested sexual assault evidence kits.
• He supports legislation to remove Ohio’s 20-year statute of limitations for prosecuting rape and sexual battery cases. “There should be no statute,” he said.
• His office is working on a proposal to crack down on synthetic drugs, which sometimes are called bath salts. New versions of the drugs are being tweaked to get around chemical definitions in state law. His office wants to ban chemicals found to be a risk to the public more quickly.