About 8.8 million licensed Ohio drivers and state ID holders will have their photos uploaded to a state database used by law enforcement officers and federal immigration officials.
Attorney General Dave Yost and Gov. Mike DeWine plan to fill the state's facial-recognition system with updated and new mug shots of every licensed Ohio driver.
A task force formed by Yost recommended the step Thursday while advising him on use of the facial-recognition system as an effective law enforcement tool while protecting Ohioans' privacy and civil liberties.
The Bureau of Motor Vehicles turned over all driver's license photos in 2011 to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation — part of the attorney general's office — but since has not provided any new images for the facial-recognition system.
The pending import of driver's license photos into the system would generate updated mug shots of Ohioans already in the database while adding the photos of all additional drivers licensed since 2011.
Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union worry that facial-recognition systems are ripe for misuse, such as public surveillance in a bid to identify people not suspected of wrongdoing.
DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said the governor, who is the immediate past attorney general, "supports moving forward" on adding the updated and new BMV mugs to the state system.
Yost said "guardrails" will be erected to prevent misuse of facial recognition by police agencies and to forbid its use for active surveillance of any public gatherings to potentially identify people.
The system should only be used with reasonable suspicion the person to be identified has committed a crime or his or her actions would pose a danger of killing or hurting people, the task force said in its report to Yost.
"Facial-recognition technology is a tool to develop leads — it's a place where police work begins, not where it ends," Yost said.
Yost's office conducted a review and appointed the task force last summer after news reports that federal law enforcement officials have mined the photo databases of state bureaus of motor vehicles nationwide without the approval of Congress or state legislatures.
Of the 10,652 searches of the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway's database of 24 million photos between 2017 and mid- 2019, 418, or 3.9%, involved federal agencies, led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Yost's review found. Columbus police conducted 768 searches, the fifth-most in the state. The database includes photos of every prisoner in the Ohio penal system, too.
Yost said he found no abuse of the technology by law enforcement, but suspended, and plans to continue for now, direct police access to the facial-recognition database. Searches must be conducted by BCI staff.
The attorney general said the state will see "quantum improvement" when a new $21 million facial-recognition software system comes online next year to replace the antiquated system, which can have difficulty correctly matching photos of women and African Americans.
The system now contains more than 24 million photos, including state prisoners, sex offenders and millions of police booking mugs, in addition to the driver's license and state ID photos.