Biometrics: Privacy and the Law

Posted on: September 23rd, 2015 by Max Valerio No Comments


In March, here in California, an attempt by the California Department of Justice to automatically use and share biometrics (facial recognition technology) on photos taken at the DMV was stopped before it could start.  

The plan was to share California state ID/driver’s license photos with a national law enforcement network, allowing police nationwide to use their facial recognition technology on the California image database.  A campaign by stalwart technology privacy advocates, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), successfully challenged the project pointing out correctly that the sharing of DMV photos with law enforcement agencies was already against the law in California.  Oddly, the statewide police information-sharing network, CLETS (California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System) was on a fast road to creating the system and was already meeting with law enforcement agencies to begin the process.  Apparently, the fact that this is against California law had slipped their minds.  At any rate, the plan was stopped and removed from the CLETS agenda. However, this opening gambit by a state law enforcement agency to begin a wide use of biometrics to identify people shows how biometrics technology is maturing quickly and reveals how tantalizing it is to law enforcement.

Other states are already marrying biometrics and law enforcement 

Of course, there’s at least two sides to every question, and many states are already allowing their DMVs to use facial recognition technology on driver’s license or State ID photos and share those with a law enforcement database.  Without question, these technologies can aid law enforcement and may even provide a measure of security for the public by helping to stop crimes like identity theft.  For example, the Arizona Department of Transportation will be implementing facial recognition technology during the application process for state-issued identification.  The purpose is to cut off identity theft at the ankles, before it makes a segue into a person’s bank account.  Biometrics are an excellent way to help stop identity theft before it ruins a person’s life, but privacy always remains a legitimate and competing concern.

Competing interests of privacy and law enforcement make for debate 

There is always a lot to debate, and a lot to consider when moving forward with court technology initiatives or any technology proposal that impacts the law.  How the law is enforced, how the law is meted out, and how we record proceedings, can be impacted and improved by technology. However, because this is such a sensitive area, and one where abuse can easily occur, it will take more than convenience for a technology to become a standard.

Facebook is moving ahead with biometrics now

The question of privacy and biometrics is an important one and will be debated increasingly as biometric technologies become even more accurate and portable.  Did you know that Facebook has an artificial intelligence team that has designed facial-recognition technology able to identify people in photos 83 percent of the time, without even seeing their face?  Apparently, the program will assess hairstyles, postures, and general body type, to recognize people with an accuracy that approaches human-level.  Since so many people have selfies on Facebook this program might be a cause for concern, depending on what it is used for and who obtains the data.

streamWrite has Justice Portals and more

Here at streamWrite, we are keeping ahead of the latest trends in technology and creating our own solutions  as well as partnering with UC providers who understand the impact of communication solutions, including biometrics,  on the court and the law.  We have a suite of court solutions involving IVR, ITR, virtual appearances, and the automation of legal processes like traffic tickets and jury duty that can be tailored specifically for your court.  These are called: Justice Portals, Proceedings, and V-Court. Contact us here anytime to begin a discussion about Unified Communications (UC) and your company.


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