When you have your photo taken at the Vt. Department of Motor Vehicles you may worry about how you look, not so much who will be looking at that photo. But it turns out a computer program at the DMV does what's called a scrub, scanning your face to search for fraud.
"The only purpose of this to protect people from identity theft," said Capt. Drew Bloom of the Vt. DMV Enforcement Division.
The DMV has scanned every single face in its system, examining 80 points on each face.
"What the software does is it creates an algorithm bases on those points and it measures depth, height and width," Bloom explained.
And of the tens of thousands of DMV photos, 25 people have now gone from drivers to suspects-- people with multiple names and licenses, but using the same photo. People like a man now wanted in Vermont and Massachusetts.
"Some substantial amount of bank fraud, medical fraud," Bloom said.
The system has found people trying to hide past DUIs, even one man trying to avoid paying about $100,000 in child support.
To show us how quickly the system scans, Bloom took my photo on his phone and uploaded it. Within a second or two-- Bingo!
"There you are," he said. "You can see the top three hits on the system are you."
It found my license and the two times I've renewed it. It's technology the DMV says is helping them get ahead of identity theft for the first time.
"So, we've really been behind the eight ball on it, often times, weeks, months, some cases years have gone by before victims realize they have been victimized, where this would be available the very next day after the photo is taken, so we can really head it off at the pass," Bloom explained.
Police are taking notice. A couple of departments have asked the DMV to run photos as part of other investigations. They don't need a warrant.
"This is the first I've learned it's being used for law enforcement purposes," said Allen Gilbert, the executive director of the Vt. American Civil Liberties Union.
Gilbert says the DMV's facial recognition system is another sign of big data in Vermont-- the government acquiring more and more personal information about Vermonters thanks to advances in technology.
"People should freak out for two reasons," Gilbert said. "First, computers are much more powerful than a clerk at the DMV flipping through files of photos can ever be. Second thing people should freak out about is that last year the DMV said it would not be used for law enforcement purposes, and a year later it's being used for law enforcement purposes. That's exactly what's happening with the NSA surveillance system and it's really troubling."
Capt. Bloom handles investigations for the DMV but cannot address policy. I was referred to director Mike Smith, who did tell the newspaper Seven Days last summer that the new system would not be used for outside police investigations. Smith now says that that interview was nearly a year ago, before the system started and that things have changed since then.
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