Facial Recognition Software

Facial Recognition Software

The State of Washington uses facial recognition software in coordination with their driver license, identicard and Enhanced Driver License programs.  The Department of Licensing states that “Individuals who fraudulently obtain Washington state driver licenses and ID cards present a serious risk to the safety and economic health of our residents and businesses.”[1] While identity fraud is a serious societal problem that needs to be effectively combated, this ‘mission statement’ can lead to less than effective results. The facial recognition software...


The State of Washington uses facial recognition software in coordination with their driver license, identicard and Enhanced Driver License programs.  The Department of Licensing states that “Individuals who fraudulently obtain Washington state driver licenses and ID cards present a serious risk to the safety and economic health of our residents and businesses.”[1] While identity fraud is a serious societal problem that needs to be effectively combated, this ‘mission statement’ can lead to less than effective results.

The facial recognition software began when such a system was appropriated by the 2009-2011 Washington State Transportation Budget and signed into law by Governor Gregoire.  Essentially, photographs taken of individuals by the Department of Licensing for any new application or renewal of a license, ID card, or Enhanced Driver License is run through the system to look for indications of fraud.  If there is a positive match the case may be reviewed by an investigator working for the State.  If the investigator determines a fraud happened then the case is referred to the Department of Licensing and a license suspension of 60-364 days is imposed.

While courts have determined that driving is a ‘privilege’ and not a right, the courts have also determined that once that privilege is granted it constitutes a property interest belonging to the individual holding the license.  In order for the Department of Licensing to take that property interest away there must be due process of law as guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

If a person applying or renewing her license or ID has their photograph processed through the facial recognition software and it is determined that a fraud occurred the person is notified that their license will be suspended.  However, they are able to seek a hearing before a Department of Licensing hearing examiner to determine if the action is appropriate.

What is troubling is that all those involved work for the same team though they are also those charged with ensuring “due process” is given to a person whose license is being suspended.  It is also troubling that there is no time limit in which the government must accuse a person of having committed fraud – there is simply no statute enacted to limit this investigation (nearly all crimes other than the most heinous have a ‘statute of limitations’ setting the time limits for when a crime must be prosecuted). This can create problems for someone who is trying to understand why their license will be taken away for 364 days with very little notice.

More difficult for someone who finds himself facing a license suspension is that there are no probationary licenses, work permits, or exceptions to the suspension.  Most “suspensions” and “revocations” handed out by the Department of Licensing allow for special licenses or permits so that people are able to drive to work, the doctor, the grocery store, etc.  No such exception exists for cases resulting from the facial recognition software.

An attorney experienced in dealing with the Department of Licensing can help advocate and work to avoid or mitigate the impact of such allegations.  Careful review of records and procedures may be necessary to make sure the Department of Licensing is not making a mistake that could have a huge impact on your everyday life.


[1] http://licensingexpress.wordpress.com, Tuesday, January 24th. DOL response to King5 report.