Facial recognition aims to prevent identity fraud

Posted at 10:13 PM, Feb 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-20 00:13:22-05

The next time you renew your driver's license, whatever you do, don't smile.

That's a new rule designed to make your face easier to identify by government run, computerized facial recognition programs.

"A big toothy smile messes up facial recognition software," says Jake Melder with the Idaho Transportation Department.

And he explains why we need it.

"This is just one more layer of protection against identity theft and identity fraud."

The concept is this... If someone steals your social security number and tries to get a license under your name, the facial recognition software will spot it because their face won't match yours.

"We flag it and say this is fraud and track it more easily," says Melder.

This is all part of the eventual rollout of the federal Real-ID act where facial information can be shared nationwide.

"Once Real ID is in effect," explains Melder, "we'll be able to give that info to other states in a very limited and clearly defined basis."

But critics like Wayne Hoffman from the Idaho Freedom Foundation say facial recognition could allow the government to track people using cameras that are everywhere today.

"Here's the bottom line, there are 1.6 million Idahoans and nearly all of them are not criminals and yet that's how we're treated just because we have a state-issued ID."

Melder says Idaho code outlines how the information can be used, but Hoffman says the rules are not clear.

"All this technology being deployed on innocent Idahoans and Americans and there aren't any rules for how the technology is to be used."

Plus Hoffman and the ACLU say software designed to protect us from fraud could actually make us more vulnerable.

"Yes, in the hands of the government you say they're using it to protect us.  But this is a possibility and a very real one at that by the way if that data gets into the hands of the wrong people."

Imagine the fraud if someone hacked a national database of Real ID holders.

Still, even if you don't like the Real ID act, short of a repeal, you'll just have to grin and bear it, just don't smile.
The facial recognition system will be operational in two to three months.

Hoffman says he's encouraged that the Idaho legislature is proposing legislation that would allow residents to choose between Real ID and a standard Idaho license.