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Michigan Bill Would Keep State Mugshots Out of Federal Facial Recognition Database, But Major Problem Would Remain

LANSING, Mich. (Nov. 2, 2016) – A bill introduced in the Michigan legislature would prohibit state and local law enforcement from providing photographs to the FBI’s facial recognition database, but it would have little practical effect.

Rep. Peter Lucid introduced House Bill 5870 (HB5870) in September. The legislation bars Michigan law enforcement agencies from forwarding photos to the FBI for inclusion in any database “that utilizes facial recognition technology.”

The FBI maintains the largest facial recognition system in the country. Known as Next Generation Identification Interstate Photo System (NGI-IPS), it contains some 25 million state and federal criminal photos, mostly mugshots shared by state and local law enforcement agencies. Photos remain in the system even if a court never convicts the individual of a crime.

If passed into law, HB5870 would keep Michigan mugshots from ending up in NGI-IPS.

But while the intent of the bill is noble, it will do little to shield Michiganders from FBI facial recognition. That’s because Michigan is among the 16 states that allows FBI’s facial recognition unit (FACE Services) to search its driver’s license database.

FACE Services can access a massive network of databases that include 411.9 million photos. Perpetuallineup,org describes the shocking breadth of FBI facial search capabilities.

Over 185 million of these photos are drawn from 12 states that let the FBI to search their driver’s license and other ID photos; another 50 million are from four additional states that let the FBI to search both driver’s license photos and mug shots. While we do not know the total number of individuals that those photos implicate, there are close to 64 million licensed drivers in those 16 states. In 2015, the FBI launched a pilot program to search the passport database. It remains unclear if the system can access the entire 125 million passport database or just a subset.

So as it stands now, the FBI essentially includes every Michigan resident with a driver’s license or a state ID card in a perpetual photo lineup.

Facial recognition technology poses a significant risk to privacy. Not only can law enforcement look back in time to determine where you’ve been, police and other government officials have the capability to track individuals in real time. Some of these systems allow law enforcement agents to use video cameras and continually scan everybody who walks by.

Limiting FBI access to state and local photos takes an important step toward stopping the creation of a nationwide facial recognition system. Keeping Michigan mugshots out of the hands of the FBI would provide a hindrance to the surveillance state, but the state also need to stop allowing the feds to search its driver’s license photos.