(Indianapolis) — A convicted child molester could be headed to jail again soon, thanks to a facial recognition system that has quietly been deployed at Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicle stations.
When a picture is snapped for a driver’s license photo, the biometric computer software scans facial features and compares it to photographs of convicts and wanted felons in a law enforcement database.
A police report filed with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department this morning details exactly how this system is being used to track down criminals.
The BMV called police to say its facial recognition system had alerted to a child molester who had applied for an official photo identification card under a different person’s name.
Sex offenders and other convicted felons often try to leave their past behind, using new identities so that their criminal records won’t haunt them as they hunt for work or even try to rent an apartment.
In this morning’s case, a 56-year-old pedophile applied for a state ID card using his actual last name, but inserting a different first name and middle name.
If he was successful, he’d be able to hand over an official Indiana license card displaying a different name that may come with a clean background.
In the police report, officers write, “(He) was identified by the facial recognition system currently in use by the Indiana BMV.”
The report points out that applying for an official license card using a phony identity is a crime known as “Application Fraud” in Indiana. However, this molester could be headed back to jail much more quickly than you may expect.
Normal cases of identity theft or application fraud would be assigned a detective and then evidence would be gathered and presented to prosecutors. Presenting the case to a grand jury or getting an arrest warrant could take months, especially when stacks of documents are needed to prove the case, as with most white collar crimes.
The sex offender tracking laws in Indiana and most other states cut out a lot of the required leg work for sex offenders.
Most police departments have entire bureaus or divisions that do nothing but track down convicted sex offenders who are no longer in prison. In Indianapolis, that task falls under the Marion County Sheriff’s charge.
Detectives there work to make sure that registered sex offenders are really living where they claim they are. When they get out of prison, rapists are told they have to register their address with this office immediately and any change has to be reported within days of moving.
If a convict is caught violating those rules, he can be returned to jail without a lengthy and detailed investigation.
Those same laws allow the sheriff to lock someone up for even attempting to steal an identity or get around this system.
A check of the Indiana Sex Offender Registry shows no active warrants for the child molester outlined in this case file. He likely has no idea that a facial recognition system at BMV has flagged his picture and his transaction.
He also likely has no idea that he could be headed back to jail soon.
Marion County Clerk’s office records on Wednesday night did not reflect any new warrants and his name did not appear on the Marion County Jail’s online roster.
Law enforcement agencies like to keep quiet about facial recognition systems and how they’re being used.
In August 2011, federal agents in Houston used the software to crack an Internet fraud racket, and they contacted a reporter who broke the story to express frustration with reporting on the facial recognition details.
Clicking above, from the day that story broke, you can see the actual images scanned into the system to catch the crooks.
In that case, bank surveillance cameras captured the image of a Romanian national who was using a bogus name while living in the United States. In the photo, he was collecting cash at a bank that had been wired by someone who thought they were buying a luxury automobile that was posted for sale online.
US Postal Inspectors knew that the criminal was withdrawing money from those online car transactions using a phony name, so they took that bank surveillance picture to the US State Department Office of Diplomatic Security.
That federal law enforcement agency was one of the first to begin using the facial recognition software for anyone who has their photo taken for visas to enter the country.
In the Houston case, that picture from the bank lobby quickly turned up a match with the real identity of the guy from the day his visa to enter the US required his photo to be taken. He went to jail.
The Department of Homeland Security also maintains a facial recognition system that interfaces with several law enforcement agencies, according to federal documents and filings. The agency claims it uses the technology to spot terrorists and other criminals on various watch lists as they may try to enter or leave the country.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation filed documents within the past 45-days to use facial recognition systems on a more widespread scale for daily law enforcement work.
The new FBI system would allow agents to use the software on laptops in the field, and in real time, according to the filings.
While privacy watchdogs have long complained about how law enforcement could abuse facial recognition technology, the concerns have failed to catch any real traction with the mainstream public. Perhaps that’s because most people seem comfortable with the idea of catching felons who have already been in trouble in the past. If a terrorist is on a watch list or a child molester is trying to shed his violent criminal record, most folks probably feel like every possible tool should be used to lock them up.
However, few people are aware that it’s not just convicted criminals having their faces scanned into this law enforcement database. In the case of Indiana’s BMV, anyone who drives a car or carries an identification card is scanned into the system, so privacy advocates may have even more potential abuses to ponder.
If someone cashes a bad check or a store camera catches them shoplifting, certainly probable cause exists to investigate and arrest them. But there was no probable cause back when the BMV photo was taken, and yet that facial recognition evidence could be used years down the road in the event that a crime is committed by the person.
The notion of law enforcement collecting evidence before a crime is committed has been a hot topic for discussion since long before Orwell’s 1984 tale of ‘big brother.’