Home Social Justice ACLU Ohio warns of a potential partnership between Ohio Attorney General and FBI

ACLU Ohio warns of a potential partnership between Ohio Attorney General and FBI

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio warned Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine of dangers in a potential partnership between the FBI and the state of Ohio. The concerns, which were expressed in an Aug. 29 letter, said the potential agreement would provide the FBI access to the state’s OHLEG law enforcement database.

ACLU Ohio discovered that DeWine’s office was in contact with the FBI through a public records request. If Ohio were to give access to its OHLEG database, it would be handing over its driver’s license photos, criminal mugshots and corrections photos, according to the letter from ACLU Ohio.

In a statement to The New Political, Dan Tierney, spokesman for the office of the Ohio Attorney General, said the FBI has submitted no formal request for access to Ohio’s OHLEG database.

“The FBI has been inquiring with multiple agencies, including BCI, about what photograph databases are used by agencies,” Tierney said. “The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has received no formal request for access from the FBI at this time. Should one be received, the request would be vetted with our OHLEG Advisory Committee, which includes civil liberties advocates, and our OHLEG Steering Committee to provide feedback prior to a final decision.”

The ACLU worries the introduction of such collaboration between Ohio and the FBI would leave Ohioans unaware of precisely how their personal data was being utilized due to multiple failures in the FBI program.

“The FBI has a history of employing secret mass surveillance, and documented problems with management of facial recognition technology,” Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist of ACLU Ohio, said in a press release. “We question why Ohio would consider giving the FBI even more ability to access personal information, with minimum security and oversight, and with no opportunity for public input.”

The Next Generation Identification-Interstate Photo System (NGI-IPS) was developed by the FBI to provide a unified search platform for photos collected by the agency. It creates a ranked list of individuals, using their in-house Facial Analysis, Comparison and Evaluation (FACE) technology, and delivers the list of possible persons of interest in cases, according to the FBI’s own description of the program.

But the ACLU says participating in the FBI program could put Ohioans at risk. A 2016 Government Accountability Office report cited in the letter is the basis for many of the ACLU’s concerns.

The GAO report from May criticizes several aspects of the FBI-run NGI-IPS program. Largely, the report finds the FBI was not transparent in how it used the technology, nor did it provide data to show how accurate and reliable the state databases or the FACE program were.

At the time the GAO report was published, the FBI had already been given driver’s license photos from 16 states. The agency is reported to have 411.9 million total images on file, according to the GAO report.

The report provided a list of six recommendations to make the program more transparent and accountable to the public. According to the GAO, its recommendations are still “open,” meaning the FBI has yet to publicly address them. Those recommendations are outlined in the full report.  

“By taking such steps, the FBI could better ensure the data received from external partners is sufficiently accurate and do not unnecessarily include photos of innocent people as investigative leads,” the report said.

The ACLU letter also expressed concern that the FBI is pushing to exempt the NGI program from the Privacy Act of 1974, which the ACLU argues is further proof the FBI is not concerned with protecting the privacy of Americans citizens.

The office of the Ohio Attorney General has yet to officially issue a response to the ACLU’s August letter.

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