DOL expands use of facial recognition system to fight fraud

June 7, 2012
DOL image

DOL image

The Department of Licensing (DOL) is starting to use a facial recognition matching system as part of our ongoing efforts to prevent individuals from obtaining multiple driver licenses or ID cards or attempting to obtain a license or ID in the name of another Washington resident. DOL is committed to doing everything we can to protect the identities of Washington residents.

DOL has used facial recognition as part of the Enhanced Driver License program since 2008 and in our regular driver license and ID card processes during the pilot program from November 2009 through June 2011.

How does facial recognition system work?
Using your regular driver license or ID card photo, the system uses sophisticated mathematics to create a digital template of facial features that aren’t easy to alter, such as eye sockets, cheekbones and sides of the mouth.

Before a new license is issued, the system compares the template it creates to with all of the templates already in our database to determine if someone is attempting to apply for a license using a name other than their own. When potential conflicts are detected, the system flags them for review by specially trained DOL staff.

DOL’s facial recognition system is designed to be an accurate, non-obtrusive fraud detection tool. When staff investigators confirm an individual may have more than one identity in our system, DOL offers the individual an opportunity to explain. A hearing is offered before any administrative action to suspend or cancel a license or ID card is taken.

Facial recognition templates are not shared
We do not share the use of the system with law enforcement or the other agencies without a court order and do not release facial recognition system results. However, when our efforts find probable fraud or identity theft we inform appropriate partner agencies who can investigate for identity-based crime or entitlement fraud.


Recent KING 5 report about DOL facial recognition program contained a false statement

January 24, 2012

Individuals who fraudulently obtain Washington state driver licenses and ID cards present a serious risk to the safety and economic health of our residents and businesses. To fight this type of illegal activity, DOL has been working with the State Legislature for several years to obtain the authority to use a proven, non-invasive facial recognition system already in use for our Enhanced Driver License program to monitor regular driver license and ID card transactions for potential fraud.

In a story broadcast during the 11 p.m. newscast on January 23, 2012, KING 5 stated that DOL operated facial recognition software for regular driver license and ID card transactions without legal authority. This is a false statement. DOL was fully authorized to operate this system as a pilot program by our state’s 2009-2011 transportation budget. This budget, passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor on May 13, 2009, contained this provision:

“(7) The department may seek federal funds to implement a driver’s license and identicard biometric matching system pilot program to verify the identity of applicants for, and holders of, drivers’ licenses and identicards. If funds are received, the department shall report any benefits or problems identified during the course of the pilot program to the transportation committees of the legislature upon the completion of the program.”

The pilot program ended when the 2009-2011 transportation budget expired. We are now working with the Legislature to make the use of this technology a permanent part of our processes.

DOL appreciates KING 5’s efforts to keep the public informed about the use of our facial recognition system, but it is important for the public to understand that DOL has not used this system in any way that was not fully authorized by law.

The use of facial recognition in our Enhanced Driver License program and in our regular driver license and ID card processes during the pilot program from November 2009 through June 2011 has demonstrated a need to have this system in place to make sure DOL is doing everything possible to protect public safety and the personal identity information of our state’s residents.

The use of facial recognition in our Enhanced Driver License program and our pilot program has identified three primary reasons individuals fraudulently obtain multiple driver licenses or ID cards. These are:

• To continue driving after a driver license suspension or revocation

• To purchase or consume alcohol as a minor

• To engage in criminal activities including identity theft

In 2011, the use of facial recognition by our agency resulted in 571 driver license suspensions and the cancellation of 560 fraudulent records and the associated cards. We also are working our way through 3,800 more cases of fraud identified by the facial recognition system during the pilot program.

Our facial recognition system also has allowed us to identify cases where individuals were maintaining multiple identities to fraudulently collect benefits through state entitlement programs.


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