NYPD Wants Your License For Facial Recognition. Should They Gain This Power?


According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the NYPD’s Real Time Crime Center and Facial Identification Sections would like to get full and unfettered access to the state’s database of driver’s licenses.

Currently, the police department is limited to mugshots of criminals within their own facial identification database. Now they want the ability to match facial images with identity for the millions of people who drive cars within the state of New York.

Why is law enforcement asking for facial identification capabilities over innocent, law-abiding folks? An article on the subject suggests that such a capability could help the department to identify lost adults with cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s; it could help hospitals put names to unconscious patients who are admitted without ID; and if expanded, it could aid in interstate law enforcement efforts to find criminals that live under false identities.

What Price Hath Privacy? 

Do such piecemeal benefits justify the removal of yet another brick from our personal sanctuaries of privacy?

A proposed expansion of capabilities in governmental programs always requires the vigilance of concerned citizens. As technology has evolved, the power of surveillance has risen exponentially. The potential and far-reaching implications, not just in the present but for the future, need to be in the forefront of our minds and a topic of our deeper discussions.

Typically, such inquiries eventually lead to the question, ‘What might happen if these capabilities fell into the wrong hands?’

This question may be more prescient to the case than it appears. And rather than focusing on the NYPD’s ability to protect their technology and freshly-inherited citizen database from external cybertheft, we might be better served to simply ask ourselves: Is the New York Police Department—itself—the ‘wrong hands’?

Tools Of Power?

Not to make us fearful but more so to reflect, do we believe that this law enforcement agency consistently adheres to its stated commitment to ‘Protect the lives and property of our fellow citizens and impartially enforce the law’? Or do we have reason to believe that has the potential to move the needle closer to a dystopian police state? In the bigger scheme of things, are there times when an agency such as this serves—in whole and in part—the agendas of the Deep State?

If we are realistic about the reach of the Deep State, then we have to acknowledge their well-honed ability to infiltrate and control any discrete entities under the broad purview of government. If, for example, they became more capable of locating and targeting ordinary citizens, some of whom they may identify as ‘enemies of the state,’ it could certainly supplement the current and future tools they use to neutralize dissent.

Here’s Edward Snowdon on the dangers of this technology:

But regardless of our opinion about the autonomy or integrity of any particular branch or agency of government, as a general rule we might best be served to promote limits on the proliferation of personal information that can give rise to an increased centralization of power. While the consolidation of personal data might help to make certain processes more efficient or effective, it moves us further away from the kind of liberty promised by the forefathers.


The original purpose for image-mounted driver’s licenses is to help maintain safety and accountability on our roadways. Few would disagree that the ends justify the means in this case, if the Department of Motor Vehicles maintains this information in the strictest of confidence.

Now–if there are some other ways that society can benefit from the existence of the DMV database, why wouldn’t we empower the DMV itself to govern those additional processes so that the information remains as private as possible? If, for example, the NYPD wanted to ascertain the identity of an unconscious person who had been admitted to hospital, it could submit a picture of the patient to the DMV who could conduct the search within their secured database, and only provide information back to the NYPD if they find a positive match.

Less efficient and effective? Perhaps we need to remain ready to pay that price for our privacy. heart-based reflection, without becoming fearful, is the key here.