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In the “Land of the Automobile…”

…the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) is King.

Maybe. They would sometimes like to think so. In any case, the DMV is a “force to be reckoned with” in California.

This time, the California DMV has been accused of trying to “sneak in” facial recognition and thumbprinting for driver’s licenses, by burying the proposals for biometrics in a vendor contract, according to some consumer rights groups, including the California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (1), the Consumer Federation of California, the World Privacy Forum, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) (1). The groups say that the DMV tried to do an “end-run” around opposition in the California Legislature by hiding its plans in a vendor contract.

The DMV’s proposal to introduce new biometric technologies was contained in a new vendor contract for the production of California drivers licenses starting in June. Computerworld obtained a copy of the contract and forwarded it to California’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee via the California Department of Finance on January 14, 2009. DMV planned to implement thumbprint and facial recognition technology. In addition, “the facial-recoginition software has the ability to compare an individual’s new photo against the latest photo for all other records on the database and identify those records that may be the same individual,” the DMV appkication stated.

The DMV stated that the plan would cost the state roughly $63 million over the next five years. (You recall how California, two days ago, barely came up with a budget to address a projected $42 billion deficit over the next year and a half?) DMV noted that several other states, including Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Georgia have implemented facial-recognition technology and were reporting success with it. (Ever wonder what all of those cameras mounted at intersections are for? Traffic control? :-) There is an intersection a block from my home that barely needs a traffic light, let alone cameras in three directions. Remember all of those cameras in “Nineteen Eighty-Four?” It took longer than predicted to mass produce them cheaply.) :-)

Well, I think that this DMV plan was one of the worst ideas since the concept of implanting RFID chips in human beings and the practice of tattooing numbers on people’s forearms during the Third Reich.

Fortunately, a lot of other folks apparently agree.

The California DMV request for fast-tracked biometic approval was blocked by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, according to a Mercury News Article. The overarching fear of the opponents of the proposition is that the police could gain access to the database of images and use the photos of individuals to track them in public. (Hey, all of those traffic cameras could come in handy! :-) ) Photographs taken of individuals in public could be compared with the drivers license database to obtain addresses and other information. Yes, photography has a “dark side.”

According to THIS article, the DMV sought permission from Governor Arnold Schwarzegger to sign the contract without the scrutiny of public hearings, under an obscure law that allows certain contracts to avoid the budget hearing process. “I think the Legislature should consider the policy implications of using biometrics in the issuance of driver’s licenses before the department starts to use the technology,” wrote Joint Legislative Budget Committee Chairwoman Denise Moreno Ducheny in a letter to the administration. As a result of the letter, the DMV’s request for the five-year contract will undergo public hearings.

Many people do not understand the capabilities of modern technology and the potential for misuse of technologies to strip the liberties of individuals in the name of “safety” or “convenience” (or even “efficiency”). Other states may have reported “success” with facial-recognition technologies, but that is not a reason for California to follow them down the “merry road” to fascism.

Remember that in Hitler‘s Germany, the “trains ran on time,” but they also carried millions of people to their deaths.

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

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