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Protecting Citizens and Foiling Criminals: California DMV Looks to Biometrics Technology to Prevent Identity Fraud

Some consumer rights groups in California are up in arms around plans for the state Department of Motor Vehicles to use biometric and facial recognition technology to identify citizens and control identity fraud.

The California DMV has applied to use biometric technology to create a database that would contain facial and fingerprint information for all California citizens over the age of sixteen. The technology would be used to verify the identities of applicants for driver's licenses and ID cards and would additionally have the ability to compare new photos against older records, thus confirming the individual's identity and thwarting potential identity thieves.

The DMV claims the new system will reduce fraudulent driver's licenses -- pointing out that more than 1,200 identification cards are linked to the wrong individual each year. They are asking for roughly $63 million over the next five years to institute the system and begin creation of the database. States including New Mexico, Texas, Oregon and Georgia have already implemented biometrics technology and experienced success.

On the other hand, groups including the California American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the World Privacy Forum, and the Consumer Federation of California are protesting the proposal and calling on legislators to halt the contract's progress. Because the information contained in the DMV's database would be accessible to government agencies, some claim that it could be used for other purposes besides basic identity recognition. Privacy group leaders also worry about data falling into the wrong hands, and insist that safeguards must be put in place to ensure that the implications surrounding biometric data are fully discussed and understood by the public.

While the privacy concerns of innocent citizens are always valid and it certainly is necessary for people to be cognizant of data being held by government agencies, this case is in fact an excellent use of facial recognition technology. To apply for and receive a DMV identification card, citizens are required by prove their identities often with 2 or 3 other pieces of information. Therefore, the only people who have real privacy in this situation are the fraudsters, criminals and identity thieves who resort to using fake information and documents and never reveal their true identity in official records.

Ultimately, using facial recognition technology to prevent the acquisition of fake IDs in scenarios like this one helps everyone. While concerns that this type of biometric comparison may ultimately be used to track the general public in ways that genuinely impinge on privacy are legitimate, this is why sensible, balanced surveillance policy and technology is so important.

Image via Mercury News

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