West Virginia uses facial-recognition technology to fight driver license fraud

The West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is using facial-recognition technology in a pilot program to cut down on license and identity fraud in the state.

This month, the DMV started using FaceIt software from Jersey City, N.J.-based Visionics Corp. to compare the digital photographs of residents seeking new or renewal licenses with photos in a database of more than 2 million DMV records on file, according to a statement by the companies. FaceIt is implemented by Digimarc ID Systems in Tualatin, Ore., a producer of drivers' licenses in the U.S. The four-month project is under way in the DMV's Charleston office. After the project is over, the DMV will determine whether to implement the system statewide.

The previous system only compared an applicant's new photo with his old photo on file, said Doug Thompson, manager of driver licensing at the West Virginia DMV. "A one-to-one match only helps if someone is trying to get his picture on your driver's license," he said.

The new, "one-to-many" system is used to ensure that people don't have licenses under another name, Thompson said. If a discrepancy is found, the matter is turned over to the department's fraud unit for investigation, he said.

Thompson said the new system, which measures the relative distance between facial features, such as the distance between the eyes and the distance between the eyes and the nose, searches the database and pulls up images that are similar in nature to the photograph of the person applying for a license. The system is resistant to changes in lighting, skin tone, hairstyle, eyeglasses and expression, and depends on the intrinsic shape and features of a person's face, Thompson said.

"The DMV worker can then check to see if the person in front of her is the same person in the other photo," Thompson said.

Recently, the New York-based American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) came out against the use of facial-recognition technology by the Tampa Police Department in Florida, which was using the system as a crime-fighting tool (see story).

Police in Tampa used surveillance cameras to photograph people on the streets and then match them against a database of known criminals, sex offenders and juvenile runaways.

Despite its opposition to the use of the technology in Tampa, ACLU spokesman Jay Stanley said his organization "didn't have a problem" with the West Virginia DMV's use of FaceIt because it isn't being used as a surveillance tool.

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