COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine supports a review ordered by his successor, Dave Yost, but defends his record by saying no misuse of the state's facial-recognition system by federal or local law enforcement was uncovered while he served as attorney general.
"He agrees with the attorney general that Ohioans are not at risk," Dan Tierney, the Republican governor's press secretary, said Wednesday of Yost's move to review access to the facial recognition system to determine if sufficient controls are in place and if misuse has occurred.
Protections and policies put into place during DeWine's tenure as attorney general — from 2011 through last year — limited use of the system, which is populated with the driver's license photos of millions of Ohioans from 2011, the spokesman said.
Tierney also said DeWine policies prohibited "dragnet sweeps" and restricted system use to "legitimate and limited purposes" to identify criminal suspects and guard against terrorist acts.
DeWine and the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, part of the attorney general's office, granted the FBI access to the state's facial-recognition system to help identify criminal suspects in 2016 amid some objections. The Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement later were also granted access.
Yost's review was prompted by a Washington Post story reporting federal law enforcement officials have mined Bureau of Motor Vehicle databases nationwide — in access never authorized by Congress nor state legislatures — for facial recognition purposes for years without the knowledge or consent of millions of drivers, the vast majority of whom never have committed a crime.
The Post's story aside, Tierney pointed out that Ohio law long has allowed the release and use of Ohio driver license photos to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies for "criminal justice and court purposes."
The governor and Public Safety Director Tom Stickrath, who served as superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation under DeWine, do not recall random audits of use of the facial-recognition system uncovering any abuses, Tierney said.
"We certainly understand it sounds scary to those who don't understand it," Tierney said.
DeWine's office rolled out the facial-recognition system in 2013, with the Cincinnati Enquirer uncovering its existence and reporting that more than 25,000 law enforcement officers were able to access the system. DeWine appointed an advisory panel that recommended changes eventually enacted to improve security, conduct audits to uncover abuse and dramatically reduce the number of people who could use the tool.
Yost said his review is designed to ensure public safety while also protecting the privacy of Ohioans.
"Government operations often develop over a long period of time from an original source of good intent, and without long term plans or design," Yost, a Republican, wrote in a tweet Wednesday.
"It’s time take a hard look at who has access to government databases, under what controls and for what purposes."