For nearly three months, law enforcement around the state have been able to run driver's license photos through a facial recognition software.
Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports that the attorney general says it's a good program to have, but critics are concerned about the way they found out about it.
Attorney General Mike DeWine says local cops, county sheriff's deputies and state troopers have always had the ability to look up driver's license information and photos. Now, he says they can use this facial recognition software to match images of possible suspects or victims with their driver's license photos. DeWine says the software could help in a variety of situations, such as with Alzheimer's patients, dead bodies, and criminal acts.
"Someone goes into a bank and is robbing that bank, and if the surveillance picture is good enough, then that could be compared to the BMV records and find out who it is. If the police have a suspect who will simply not identify himself or herself, facial recognition could be used."
DeWine says since June 6, the software has been used more than 26-hundred times, and there have been some successes. But until recently, it wasn't public knowledge that the program was being used in Ohio. And that's a problem for the Democrat who's announced he'll run against DeWine next year, David Pepper of Cincinnati.
"He was willing to launch this enormous program and hadn't given the slightest thought to how it might impact the privacy of citizens, didn't even think it was worth announcing, and only three months later when a newspaper found out about it, now he launches out of the blue a task force that he's rushing to put together - frankly, I think to satisfy the fact that people are upset about it."
DeWine says a working group of chiefs of police, sheriffs, judges, public defenders, and other legal and law enforcement professionals will soon be announced. They'll be asked to come up with recommendations for ensuring privacy and security within 60 days. And though DeWine says he hasn't heard of any cases of misuse, that's a fifth degree felony - but violations aren't usually found out unless they're reported. DeWine says if he had it to do over again he would have publicly announced the program's launch, he doesn't regret putting the program into place.
"For us not to do this would be a dereliction of our duty to the people of the state of Ohio to protect them. For Mike DeWine not to put this into effect would be the wrong thing. So, if I had to do it over again, would we have announced it when we did it? Yeah, we would have. And I'll take responsibility for that."
But Pepper says that's too little, too late.
"I think it's a dereliction of duty to launch it without having taken the steps to assure Ohioans' privacy. I understand there's some benefits, and those are important. But there's a balance between Ohioans' privacy rights and benefits to law enforcement. We don't have to pit them against each other. There's a way to do this that is balancing both. It's clear they didn't do that."
DeWine says Ohio is among 29 states using the program. But several other Democratic lawmakers have denounced DeWine for launching it without notifying the public. And the American Civil Liberties Union has asked DeWine to shut down the program until there are documented rules to keep information secure, protect privacy and prevent abuse.