Here’s How One State Is Using Driver’s License Facial Recognition To Crack Down On Fraud

Image courtesy of Ken Lund

Fake IDs aren’t just a problem for people whose identities have been stolen and used to make a new driver’s license, but they can also lead to unlicensed drivers hitting the roads and potentially endangering others. Officials in New York say they’ve made a serious dent in these kinds of crimes with its driver’s license facial recognition technology.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office says that the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles’ Facial Recognition Technology Program has identified more than 21,000 possible cases of identity theft or fraud since its launch in 2010, with more than 7,000 of those cases happening in the last 18 months.

So far, investigations have resulted in more than 4,000 arrests involving more than 16,000 people who are now facing some kind of administrative action against them.

Cuomo’s office attributes this success to a technology upgrade in Jan. 2016 that doubled the number of measurement points mapped to each driver’s photograph, “vastly improving the system’s ability to match a picture to one that already exists in the database, and identify people who had two or more identities.”

Netting fraudsters

Cuomo’s office lists a few cases of accused fraudsters who have been arrested for allegedly obtaining fake licenses, including a furniture mover who allegedly stole a customer’s identity and tried to obtain a New York driver license under that person’s name but was denied.

He didn’t give up, and instead is accused of flying to Florida and allegedly obtaining a license issued in the customer’s name there. Authorities say he then leased a car with that license, and allegedly stole $50,000 in cash from the victim’s bank account. According to investigators, he was in the middle of receiving a shipment of furniture he’d allegedly fraudulently charged when authorities arrested him.

Safety matters

The governor’s announcement also cites a study of the program by the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research, which found that drivers with multiple licenses pose a serious traffic safety risk.

And of the more than 12,300 cases that involve drivers with multiple licenses who may be fraud problems, 24% of them didn’t have a valid license under their own name.

“The use of this facial recognition technology has allowed law enforcement to crack down on fraud, identity theft, and other offenses — taking criminals and dangerous drivers off our streets and increasing the safety of New York’s roadways,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement.

Privacy issues?

Who else might use facial recognition? While NY does not send driver’s license photos to an FBI program criticized by privacy advocates after a 2016 Government Accountability Office report [PDF] found that the FBI had collected hundreds of millions of face recognition photos in its Next Generation Identification database, New York does submit “criminal photos” to that program.

And according to the GAO report “the FBI has entered into agreements to search and access external databases— including millions of U.S. citizens’ drivers’ license and passport photos…”

“Face recognition is notoriously inaccurate across the board and may also misidentify African Americans and ethnic minorities, young people, and women at higher rates than whites, older people, and men, respectively,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said last June.