Obscure California Committee Moves to Expand How Police Access and Use DMV Photos

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FA Note:  March­ing down DHS’ path from Real ID to Glob­al ID, glob­al data shar­ing and glob­al tracking.

EFF.orgAtten­tion Cal­i­for­nia: the pri­va­cy and secu­ri­ty of your dri­ver licens­es are under threat from a new scheme to mas­sive­ly expand how pho­to IDs are shared and ana­lyzed by law enforce­ment agencies.

Over the last few months, an obscure pan­el with­in the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Jus­tice (DOJ) has been tak­ing steps to con­nect the statewide law-enforce­ment sys­tem for access­ing dri­ver license pho­tos and mugshots, Cal-Pho­to, with a nation­al net­work of oth­er states’ pho­to sys­tems. The plan also calls for com­bin­ing facial recog­ni­tion with Cal-Pho­to for inves­ti­ga­tors to use in the field. The so-called “advi­so­ry committee”—made up of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from police advo­ca­cy groups—has advanced these issues to “pri­or­i­ty sta­tus,” unde­terred by numer­ous warn­ings these efforts would vio­late state laws.

EFF sent a let­ter to this advi­so­ry com­mit­tee last week, demand­ing they put the brakes on the project imme­di­ate­ly. With the group and its sub­com­mit­tee’s next meet­ing’s set for March 25, we’re call­ing on Cal­i­for­ni­ans to also send emails oppos­ing the projects.

Take action now with EFF’s handy email tool.

If you want to fol­low the paper trail with us, you’ll first need to learn some acronyms, includ­ing acronyms with­in acronyms.

CLETS stands for the Cal­i­for­nia Law Enforce­ment Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Sys­tem, the giant com­put­er net­work that links up law enforce­ment agen­cies across the state and allows them to access dri­ver license and pho­to IDs through Cal-Pho­to as well as oth­er types of data and records.

Over­see­ing this sys­tem is the CLETS Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tee (CAC) and its Stand­ing Strate­gic Plan­ning Sub­com­mit­tee (SSPS), both of which are made up of del­e­gates from groups such as the Cal­i­for­nia Peace Offi­cers Asso­ci­a­tion, the Cal­i­for­nia Police Chiefs Asso­ci­a­tion, and the Cal­i­for­nia State Sher­iffs Asso­ci­a­tion, as well as rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Depart­ment of Motor Vehi­cles, the Office of Emer­gency Ser­vices, and the Cal­i­for­nia High­way Patrol.

nlets_exampleAnoth­er acronym is NLETS, the Nation­al Law Enforce­ment Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Sys­tem, the fed­er­al­ly fund­ed, but pri­vate­ly oper­at­ed sys­tem that describes itself as “the pre­miere inter­state jus­tice and pub­lic safe­ty net­work in the nation for the exchange of law enforcement‑, crim­i­nal justice‑, and pub­lic safe­ty-relat­ed infor­ma­tion.” The Cal-Pho­to sys­tem links to tens of mil­lions of pho­tos; this rep­re­sents one of the great poten­tial moth­er lodes to NLETS, which offers grant mon­ey to states in an effort to expand its network.

In August 2014, SSPS began review­ing a list of law-enforce­ment goals approved in 2009 to see whether they were still ben­e­fi­cial today. Goal 8 is “Expand Cal-Photo’s capa­bil­i­ty to share pho­tos on a nation­al basis; and, deploy facial recog­ni­tion as an inves­tiga­tive tool.”

A DMV rep­re­sen­ta­tive told SSPS that nei­ther pho­to-shar­ing nor facial recog­ni­tion are pos­si­ble under “cur­rent statu­to­ry and reg­u­la­to­ry author­i­ty,” and asked the sub­com­mit­tee to remove the goal from the strate­gic plan.  How­ev­er, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the sheriff’s asso­ci­a­tion and the Cal­i­for­nia League of Cities pushed back hard, say­ing the issue was too impor­tant to drop. CAC approved the rec­om­men­da­tion lat­er that day and SSPS began mak­ing arrange­ments to meet with the DMV to pur­sue this goal.

Here’s how this debate appeared in the SSPS meet­ing min­utes [PDF]:  discussion

At the next SSPS meet­ing in Decem­ber 2014 [PDF], mem­bers report­ed that they had met with the DMV direc­tor, who reit­er­at­ed that sev­er­al laws stand in the way of pho­to-shar­ing and even more statutes would block the imple­men­ta­tion facial recog­ni­tion. The del­e­gate from the Cal­i­for­nia Peace Offi­cers’ Asso­ci­a­tion shrugged that off, say­ing he believed a review of the statutes would indi­cate that law-enforce­ment access would “prob­a­bly be appropriate.”

clets_-_nlets_diagram_0SSPS vot­ed to begin orga­niz­ing closed-door meet­ings between the heads of the state’s top law enforce­ment asso­ci­a­tions and the DMV direc­tor to dis­cuss ways to move for­ward. In the mean­time, they decid­ed to begin build­ing the pho­to-shar­ing infra­struc­ture, start­ing with a $50,000 sys­tem that would con­nect NLETS and CLETS to give Cal­i­for­nia cops access to oth­er states’ DMV pho­tos through California’s SmartJus­tice web app.

Although this would be a one-way exchange, a SSPS mem­ber from the Cal­i­for­nia jus­tice depart­ment said it would “pave the way for Cal­i­for­nia to share pho­tos with oth­er states.”

With­in days of the meet­ing, Cal­i­for­nia DOJ staff assigned to CLETS began issu­ing invi­ta­tions to asso­ci­a­tions and apply­ing for a grant from NLETS—which NLETS approved with­in two weeks.

In the grant appli­ca­tion [PDF], the Cal­i­for­nia DOJ made it clear that the under­ly­ing plan was to first imple­ment one-way shar­ing as a way to pres­sure the DMV to get on board with the greater goal of mutu­al exchange.grant_application_1

They fur­ther added: grant_application_02

As CAC and SSPS began coor­di­nat­ing its high-lev­el meet­ing with law-enforce­ment asso­ci­a­tions, the DMV issued a legal analy­sis [PDF] con­clud­ing that the Cal­i­for­nia Leg­is­la­ture must direct­ly autho­rize such pho­to-shar­ing with NLETS.

No affir­ma­tive autho­riza­tion is found in exist­ing state statutes that would require or allow the trans­mis­sion and whole­sale shar­ing of DL/ID pho­tos between Cal-Pho­to and NLETS,” the DMV wrote. The DMV also artic­u­lat­ed grave con­cerns about pri­va­cy and secu­ri­ty, claim­ing it would “open the door to ran­dom access­ing of pho­tos” and that the DMV would be unable to track the sources of data breaches. dmv_response

By our count, that’s three times the CLETS com­mit­tee and sub­com­mit­tee has been told that their plans run counter to the law and three times they’ve decid­ed to move for­ward any­way. There may be a fourth time, depend­ing on how those closed-door meet­ings went, which we may learn more about at the com­mit­tees’ March 25 meet­ings in Folsom.

EFF is extreme­ly con­cerned about the prospects of police around the coun­try hav­ing the abil­i­ty to access Cal­i­for­ni­ans’ records with insuf­fi­cient account­abil­i­ty mea­sures in place. We have also long been wary of the grow­ing use of facial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­o­gy, which can allow police to iden­ti­fy every­day cit­i­zens who aren’t involved in a crime, includ­ing through scan­ning pho­tos on social media. Most of all, we are alarmed at how quick­ly these advi­so­ry com­mit­tees are mov­ing for­ward while dis­miss­ing the DMV’s legal concerns.

Deci­sions of this mag­ni­tude must be made with full pub­lic engage­ment and the involve­ment of the leg­is­la­ture, not in obscure com­mit­tee meet­ings or in closed-door ses­sions with law enforce­ment lob­by groups.

Help us stop this expan­sion dead in its tracks. Send CAC/SSPS an email today.

The full document set from CAC/SSPS, including correspondence and technical specifications, is available here.