Tahlequah Daily Press

April 24, 2009

Ghosts in the machine haunt Okie drivers

Technology used on driver’s licenses has flaws, causing renewal delays.


Occasional when someone tries to build a better mousetrap, he winds up creating more problems.

Such is the case with the digital driver’s licenses unveiled in 2003. At the time, adding digital photographs and thumbprints seemed like a great way to protect the identity of drivers. And it was - until it was time to get one renewed.

According to a recent report by the Associated Press, the new software that compares driver’s license photos has problems, in that it doesn’t always recognize the photo of the person renewing a license.

Karen Gentry, director of driver license examining for the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, told the AP digital face recognition identifies features from previous license photos and compares it with the new photo as a way to prevent fraud.

Now that the licenses issued in 2003 are being renewed, problems are being discovered.

Sara Carshall, clerk at the Tahlequah Tag Office, has experienced a number of problems with the photos.

“We have a lot of problems with the program,” said Carshall. “I would say it happens at least twice a day.”

If the program fails to recognize the person in the photo comparison, Carshall has to make a call to Oklahoma City for an override.

“It’s not our job to approve something like that, even if we can plainly see the person applying for the renewal is the same person on the license,” she said. “We usually try the recognition program twice, then call Oklahoma City and ask for an override.”

Delays like these can cause frustration among patrons, especially during peak business hours.

While some people may be frustrated at the time it takes to renew a license, others resent the fact the state has approved using “biometric” data. According to Wikipedia, biometrics refers to methods used to recognize people based on physical or behavioral traits. In the instance of Oklahoma driver’s licenses, digital fingerprints and face recognition technology is used.

“There is a lot more to the driver’s license issue than a few hassles involved with getting it renewed,” said local resident Dr. Shannon Grimes. “I can only imagine what my grandparents or great-grandparents would say about the extent the government is keeping tabs on us these days.”

Grimes believes storing such data can create more security issues than it prevents, and cited another news story from 2007, in which driver’s license data was compromised in Elk City and Eufaula. According to the report, hackers obtained access at three Oklahoma law enforcement agencies and may have stolen private information meant only for police use.

“We should be concerned about sharing this personal information,” said Grimes. “There are many government and even international projects being pushed that would allow the sharing of our law enforcement- and public safety-related information. I simply do not trust governments and bureaucrats to safeguard collected information or even to not abuse it.”

Grimes believes it would be fairly simple for the government to use this data to “watch” unsuspecting citizens.

“Consider how easy it would be to use biometric quality pictures and related software to keep tabs on citizens by cameras and other technologies,” said Grimes. “With these privacy concerns in mind, I am against all the additional biometric ‘security’ they are wanting to put into our licenses. They are trying to make a defacto national ID card. Oklahoma has already rejected the real ID, but it is being put into place through the back door around the nation, anyway.”

Carshall has seen a number of people balk at the idea of being fingerprinted for their driver’s licenses.

“They misunderstand, because they think we’re accessing reports about them,” said Carshall. “When really, the fingerprint scan works like a signature. It’s for their own protection against identity theft.”

Grimes disagrees, saying driver’s licenses do little to keep people safer.

“We all see how little a license can mean every day on the road in regard to a driver’s skill or safety,” he said. “The added security for these licenses will only increase costs associated with licensing and further erode our privacy, and therefore, liberty. I guess it will also serve to criminalize more and more good people, as they refuse to comply with the ever-growing Big Brother government programs in their desire to maintain their privacy.”

State Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, also finds the data collection invasive, and has authored a bill that would eliminate fingerprinting from the driver’s license process.

The measure, dubbed “The Religious Freedom and Privacy Protection Act,” or Senate Bill 289, is wending its way through the Legislature, and would prevent the state from collecting, obtaining or retaining “any biometric data” in connection with motor vehicle registration or driver’s licenses.

The bill bans sharing biometric information that has previously been collected and requires the information be deleted from current files.

Brogdon told the Tulsa World that if the bill passes, “that nonsense will stop.” Brogdon believes, like Grimes, that the federal government is trampling on states’ rights.