Monday, September 5, 2011

You do not exist

We have more fun things to do with our new collection of electronic recognition programs:  combine them with an electronic data base.  The electronic recognition systems are able to search through and find people with duplicated licenses under different names, and delete the offending licenses.
Of course, if the computer happened to make a mistake.  If just by chance, you happen to look a lot like someone else (and don’t we all just look a little like Brad Pitt and Angela Joliie) you might find that you no longer existed.
As a commentator on the article below noted, you could go down to the magistrates office and have it corrected, but since you do not exist, you might have a difficult time filing.
Anti-Fraud Recognition System Revokes the Wrong Person’s License
Rebecca Boyle,  PopSci, 18 July 2011. (Hat tip:  NC)
A Massachusetts man found himself trying to prove his identity this spring after a facial recognition system pegged his driver’s license as a fake. The problem: He wasn't using a fake license. He merely looked like another driver.
John H. Gass of Needham, Mass., got a letter in the mail this spring informing him that his license had been revoked, according to a report in the Boston Globe. The system is designed to track down fake IDs, flagging people who look similar to other motorists in the database. But Gass’ license was legit — he just happened to share similar facial features with another of Massachusetts’ 4.5 million drivers. Gass won a hearing and was able to prove his identity within a couple weeks, allowing him to drive again.
From the imbedded link above:
And apparently, he has company. Last year, the facial recognition system picked out more than 1,000 cases that resulted in State Police investigations, officials say. And some of those people are guilty of nothing more than looking like someone else. Not all go through the long process that Gass says he endured, but each must visit the Registry with proof of their identity.
“We send out 1,500 suspension letters every day,’’ said Registrar Rachel Kaprielian, who says the system has been a powerful weapon to fight identity fraud since it was installed in 2006 but that it is not without problems. “There are mistakes that can be made.’’
Neither the Registry nor State Police keep tabs on the number of people wrongly tagged by the system. But Gass estimates in his lawsuit that hundreds might have received revocation notices in error since the system was installed.

The saga outlines the key problem in using facial recognition tech for law enforcement purposes. False positives are inevitable — no system is perfect — but what happens when a false positive impacts someone’s driving record, criminal history or other sensitive information?
Massachusetts bought the system with a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security. At least 34 states use such systems, which law enforcement officials say help prevent identity theft and ID fraud. Last year, Massachusetts State Police obtained 100 arrest warrants for fraudulent identity, and 1,860 licenses were revoked because of the software, according to the Globe.
Granted there any of number of people who would like to disappear:  and some can even pull it off for a while.

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