SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the Mass Department of Transportation, seeking information about how they use their driver's license database.
Renee Joseph tells Western Mass News she was shocked to hear that the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles has a database containing all the driver's license pictures of Bay State drivers that is used for facial recognition services.
"It seems like a little bit of an invasion of privacy, especially without informing people," Joseph tells us.
Bill Newman, the union director for the American Civil Liberties of Western Mass, says that issue of privacy has driven the ACLU to action.
The RMV in Massachusetts has between nine and a half and ten million images that can be used and that's the question.
For what? How are you using these images why are these images being accessed? What is the criteria?
There are no laws that control the use of this technology.
The ACLU has now filed a lawsuit against the Mass Department of Transportation, seeking information about how exactly they use the driver's license database.
Cited in the paperwork, the ACLU claims the database, created in 2006, was made available to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies for facial surveillance purposes, something Western Mass News was unable to confirm with any local agencies that they have used, or plan to use, this technology.
The ACLU claims a major problem is this technology is used in secret, without regulation.
Additionally, it is prone to errors.
"What is known about the technology is that it is highly prone to error. There can be mistakes up to 35% of the time," said Newman.
According to the filings, their research shows significant shortcomings in the accuracy of face surveillance technology, especially as it relates to distinguishing among genders and within non-white races, which can lead to harmful misidentifications.
Newman says this lawsuit comes after two public record requests have gone unanswered in both February and April of this year.
"This lawsuit says answer those public records request," continued Newman.
The ACLU says it is the public's right to have greater clarity on what this technology is capable of.
"Fine. Tell us what the criteria are, tell us who has access, tell us when they have access, tell us what happens to the results, tell us who makes the decision," stated Newman.
We did reach out to Mass DOT for comment on the lawsuit and they tell us it is against their policy to comment on pending litigation, but they did say:
"The RMV cooperates with law enforcement on specific case by case queries related to criminal investigations, but does not provide system access to federal authorities and is not negotiating to do so."