The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio on Monday asked Attorney General Mike DeWine to shut down a facial recognition program used by law enforcement until state officials verify and develop safety protocols that protect Ohioans’ rights to privacy.
DeWine formally announced the program’s existence in a press conference Monday. It allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information. Previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases.
The program has been live for more than two months and so far used for 2,677 searches. In that time span, the program was kept hidden from the public and hasn’t been checked by outside groups for proper safety protocols.
The attorney general’s office is just now putting together an independent panel of judges, public defenders, chiefs of police, sheriffs and other public safety officials to look at the program and gauge whether currently standing protections are adequate.
“The time for press conferences and advisory boards was months ago,” said Gary Daniels, associate director of ACLU of Ohio, in a statement.
Shortly after unveiling the program at a press conference, DeWine acknowledged it should have been revealed to the public earlier: “In hindsight, if I had to over again, we would have put out a release the day that it went up or before that.”
Still, DeWine defended the program’s ability to connect law enforcement with criminal suspects.
“Historically for, I don’t know, decades, law enforcement has had the ability to pull up the (Bureau of Motor Vehicles) information,” DeWine said, before noting that similar facial recognition programs have been adapted by federal officials and 28 other states.
DeWine also explained that he thinks the current protections for the program are good enough, but he said it’s prudent to have an independent group verify the standards.
Misusing the program qualifies as a fifth-degree felony, which carries a prison sentence of six months to one year.
David Pepper, who’s running for attorney general in 2014
against DeWine, criticized the current attorney general for how the program has been handled.
“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,” Pepper said in a statement. “To have kept this a secret for this long only makes it worse.”
DeWine said the independent group will be given 60 days to come up with recommendations. His office intends to announce who will serve on the group in the next few days.