By BRIDGET BUSH
Capital News Service
LANSING– Michigan State Police get such high marks for overseeing automated photo searches for criminals, according to a recent report by a national group examining privacy and law enforcement, that the state is a model for the nation.
But the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology also recommends that using driver license photos in such searches, as the Michigan State Police does, should only occur after state legislatures vote to allow them. And if allowed, the states should notify the public of their use, the study said.
Right now police must provide “appropriate justification for use,” said Lori Dougovito, public affairs representative for the Michigan State Police. That means that law enforcement police can only search the database under reasonable cause or in the case of a citizen-filed complaint to remove their image.
Any search conducted by law enforcement is time-stamped and can be tracked to that specific officer and computer.
A policeman can’t just log onto their computer and search your image out of curiosity — if they do, they could lose their badge.
“Facial recognition is an automated process for searching and comparing images of faces,” Dougovito said. “It’s used as a tool by a law enforcement when an investigation involves an unknown person and an image of that person’s face is available.”
The Michigan State Police policy on deleting non-criminal images sets itself apart from other law enforcement agencies.
While most databases aren’t scrubbed clean of mug shots of people at first connected to a crime but never convicted, Michigan law requires the destruction of fingerprints and pictures of those people, the report said.
The Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology recently reported that the Michigan State Police is the only agency that deletes mug shots from its databases of individuals who are not charged or who are found innocent.
Trying to remove a picture of yourself from other states’ databases used to find criminals is much more difficult, as it requires an expungement order that can take months to process, the report said.
Another concern around the use of face recognition software is its less than perfect accuracy, the Georgetown Law report said. Experts agree that to ensure face recognition searches are correct, trained human reviewers are necessary, the study said. Specially trained examiners can match faces almost 20 percent better than someone with limited instruction in face matching, the study said.
The Michigan State Police have people review matches before sending them to officers, Dougovito said. Only seven other systems in the country do this.
Still, the Georgetown Law report said the level of training is not clearly outlined. And not every search in Michigan gets reviewed by a person.
For example, when a face recognition search is conducted from a mobile phone, the software forwards the algorithms’ results straight to the officer — bypassing the human review, the study said.
One reason this technology is imperfect involves Michigan’s African American community, the study said. The technology does not work as well with people with darker complexions.
Law enforcement experts say they are unaware of any problems this technology has caused for African Americans in Michigan.
Some privacy experts and activists are concerned that police policies are not subject to legislative or public review. Only one agency, the San Diego Association of Governments, submitted its face recognition use policy for legislative approval, the study found. The Michigan State Policee have an informal process to review its face recognition policy, the report said. It involves a state legislator and representative from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The report concludes that Congress and states relying on mug shot databases for face recognition should follow Michigan’s lead. But it also recommends that search of drivers license photos, as done by the Michigan State Police, should only occur if the state legislatures vote to allow them.
Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, introduced a bill last March to create an oversight board for police using any technology to intercept, record, or monitor any data without the permission of the person being monitored.
“The goal is to protect civil liberties and due process while allowing the police to do their job,” Runestad said. “It only takes one bad act to trigger outrage against law enforcement, then next thing you know, a bill is rocketing through the legislature in response.”
Instead, he wants a deliberate, thought-out discussion.
“This bill would work to build public trust,” Runestad said.
The Michigan Sheriffs Association and the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police oppose this legislation.
“There’s no need for compromise because there’s no need for the bill,” said Terrence Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs Association.
Robert Stevenson, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, says the bill is “looking for a problem that doesn’t exist.”
“What changed that a society — always protected by the police — suddenly needs to be protected from the police?” Stevenson said. Police departments work hard to ensure their technologies are used in good faith.
“Here’s the issue: it’s not data collection, but restricting access to it,” Stevenson said. “And that’s an issue we’re 100 percent behind controlling.” He said the rest is rightfully decided by the Constitution in the judicial process.
It’s not the legislature but the courts that should resolve issues of technology and privacy, using GPS trackers on cars as an example, he said.
Michigan law enforcement used GPS technology against criminals until someone challenged it and the courts ruled a search warrant would be needed, he said.
“That’s the process working the way it was meant to work,” Stevenson said.
Runestad’s bill would create a board with representatives from the Michigan State Police, the Michigan Sheriffs Association, the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, a non-law enforcement appointee by the Senate majority leader, a non-law enforcement appointee by the Speaker of the House and a governor-appointed county prosecuting attorney, criminal defense attorney and representative of citizen privacy interests.
Information to be semi-annually reported to this board includes the surveillance technology used by the Michigan State Police, the frequency of its use and any information regarding the use, cost of use and limitations of it.
That type of oversight is the wrong approach, Jungel said. It gets in the way of law enforcement doing their job and “we find ourselves jousting with windmills instead of with dragons.”
By BRIDGET BUSH