Minnesota to Use Facial Recognition Technology on IDs

Minnesota soon will start using biometric face scans to prevent would-be crooks — and underage wannabe smokers and drinkers — from getting fake driver's licenses from the state.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Thursday announced plans to add biometric facial recognition technology to driver's licenses as part of a broader effort to protect consumers from identity theft and unauthorized use of personal data. That effort will include stiffer criminal penalties for hackers and others who abuse access to personal data on computers.

"Identity theft causes great trauma, inconvenience and damage to a lot of people and families," Pawlenty said at a Capitol news conference. He said the state must do more to crack down on identity thieves and strengthen safeguards for personal information.

Driver's licenses are one of the state's most important forms of identification, he said, and biometric technology will help law enforcement officers ensure that individuals are who they say they are.

The new technology would match an individual's driver's license photo with images in the state's database.

Here's how Pawlenty's office described it: "Facial recognition technology converts an image into a mathematical computer algorithm as a basis for a positive match. It uses the structure of a person's face — such as width between the eyes, forehead depth and nose length — to assign mathematical points of reference creating a unique data file."

The face scans will enable the state to detect people attempting to obtain licenses using the same photo with multiple names and birth dates, or the same name and birth date with multiple people's photos, said state Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion. "The technology … will create a higher level of integrity for Minnesota's driver's licenses."

Pawlenty said 13 other states use the technology, and it has proved "highly accurate."

No new photos will be needed to develop the state's face-scan file. State workers will scan photos on current driver's licenses to create the new file.

The new technology will cost about $1 to $2 per driver's license. Pawlenty said an $800,000 federal grant will offset these costs and that he will ask the 2006 Legislature to pay the rest.

Although he believes he has the power to implement the new system on his own, he said he would ask the Legislature to approve it.

For Minnesota retailers, the new technology means customers will be far less likely to try to use fake identification cards to make purchases, especially of alcoholic beverages and tobacco products, said Steve Rush, board chairman of the Minnesota Retailers Association. Businesses will not have equipment to read the face scans, however; only the state will have that ability.

The technology will not prevent counterfeiters from continuing to produce fake IDs. But it will help law enforcement officers detect them, said Scott Carr, a marketing executive for Digimarc, the company that makes the biometric system the state will use.

In addition to the face scans, Pawlenty said he will ask the Legislature to pass four other measures to protect personal data on computers and make it easier to prosecute hackers. The measures would:

• Make it a crime to use encryption to conceal a crime or the identity of another person who commits a crime.

• Increase criminal penalties for gaining unauthorized access to personal data through a computer.

• Authorize prosecution of hackers, even if they do not steal or destroy computer data.

• Establish a new crime for unauthorized disclosure of computer security information, such as passwords, if the person knows or has reason to believe it might be used to commit a crime.

"These are important steps that begin to modernize our identity theft laws in Minnesota," Pawlenty said.

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