July 7, 2016 11:30 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Rhode Island
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The ACLU of Rhode Island has raised concerns about apparent plans by the RI DMV to routinely share driver license photos with the FBI. In a letter to the DMV, the ACLU has called on the agency to release information about its negotiations with the FBI in order to allow public input before an agreement is entered into that could seriously invade residents’ privacy rights.

According to a recently-issued Government Accounting Office report, Rhode Island is one of a number of states currently negotiating with the FBI to allow it to match, compare, and/or search drivers’ images upon request, using flawed facial recognition technology. The ACLU has filed an open records request with the DMV to obtain more information about its negotiations, but in the meantime has sent a letter urging the DMV to reconsider the collaboration.

In the letter to RI DMV Administrator Walter Craddock, the ACLU expressed numerous concerns about the state agency’s cooperation with the FBI to use facial recognition systems in this manner. First, the ACLU noted that that there are serious questions about the accuracy and the rate of false positives generated by the technology. “The GAO report,” the ACLU letter noted, “specifically found that the FBI has insufficiently tested its facial recognition systems to determine their accuracy. The negative impact of mistakes is magnified when information currently collected and analyzed for one purpose – obtaining a legal license to operate a motor vehicle – is used for another: matching images of Rhode Island drivers to people of interest to the FBI.”

The ACLU also raised concerns about the FBI’s potential use of the technology to monitor free speech activity. Referencing reports showing that in recent years the FBI has investigated activists involved with the Occupy, Black Lives Matter, and environmental justice movements, among others, the ACLU warned that “Rhode Island residents may be subjected to FBI facial recognition surveillance because of their constitutionally protected political speech. State residents do not knowingly sign up for such surveillance when they get their driver’s licenses at the DMV.”

The ACLU also noted that the GAO report found that, in implementing this facial recognition technology, the FBI had failed to conduct audits to ensure it was conducting searches in a manner that doesn’t violate privacy, and had failed to publicly describe its plans for facial recognition in a complete and timely manner, as it was legally required to do.

The ACLU letter argued that “this sort of significant change in the use and sharing of driver license photos deserves public scrutiny. We urge you to refrain from entering into an [agreement] with the FBI until members of the public and interested advocacy groups have had the opportunity to review it and to weigh in on the benefits and the costs of such a collaboration.”

The ACLU’s letter to the DMV is available at:

A copy of the GAO report is available at:

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