JUNEAU, Alaska (March 2, 2022) – A bill introduced in the Alaska House would repeal the implementation of the federal REAL ID Act of 2005. It would also hinder the federal facial recognition surveillance program.
Rep. David Eastman (R) introduced House Bill 389 (HB389) on Feb. 22. The legislation would repeal provisions in Alaska law that implement the Real ID Act. The proposed law would also create an option for Alaska residents to get a driver’s license with a photo with a resolution that is not suitable for facial recognition.
Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005 and Pres. G.W. Bush signed it into law. The act essentially mandates a national ID system that states must implement.
Constitutionally, the federal government lacks any authority to create a national ID. But the feds won’t let something like constitutional limitations stop them from doing what they want. Congress simply ignored its delegated powers and implemented national ID standards anyway.
But things didn’t go smoothly after the passage of REAL ID. States rebelled for several reasons, including privacy concerns and the fact that Congress didn’t provide any funding for the mandates it expects states to implement. Many states simply chose not to act. Several others, such as Utah, passed laws expressly prohibiting compliance with the national ID standards.
Under the law, all states were supposed to be in compliance by 2009. But the federal government found coercing unwilling states wasn’t as easy as anticipated. Instead of forcing the issue, the feds issued waiver after waiver.
“There is an impasse,” Edward Hasbrouck a privacy advocate with the Identity Project told the New York Times. “There has been a standoff for more than a decade now. The feds have limited powers to coerce the states in this case.”
Ten years after passage more than half the states in the Union had not complied with REAL ID.
But in 2016, the feds ratcheted up their bullying tactics, specifically threatening to stop accepting non-compliant licenses at TSA security checkpoints. This would effectively ground travelers from states that refuse to comply with the unconstitutional national ID scheme. The feds set several deadlines that they ultimately delayed.
Instead of standing their ground, politicians began to cave. Idaho reversed its ban on Real ID implementation in 2016. Oklahoma followed suit the next year. At least six other states reversed course during this time period. Missouri lifted its ban on Real ID in 2018.
These states panicked too soon.
In April 2020, the feds pushed the deadline back again until Oct. 21. They claimed it was due to coronavirus. Then they kicked the deadline back again. As it stands, REAL ID will be in full force on May 3, 2023.
The provision creating the option to get a license photo that won’t work with facial recognition would allow Alaska residents to keep their faces out of a massive facial recognition database and would hinder the federal surveillance state.
A 2019 report revealed that the federal government has turned state drivers’ license photos into a giant facial recognition database, putting virtually every driver in America in a perpetual electronic police lineup. The revelations generated widespread outrage, but the story wasn’t new. The federal government has been developing a massive facial recognition system for years.
The FBI rolled out a nationwide facial recognition program in the fall of 2014, with the goal of building a giant biometric database with pictures provided by the states and corporate friends.
In 2016, the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law released “The Perpetual Lineup,” a massive report on law enforcement use of facial recognition technology in the U.S. You can read the complete report at perpetuallineup.org. The organization conducted a year-long investigation and collected more than 15,000 pages of documents through more than 100 public records requests. The report paints a disturbing picture of intense cooperation between the federal government, and state and local law enforcement to develop a massive facial recognition database.
“Face recognition is a powerful technology that requires strict oversight. But those controls, by and large, don’t exist today,” report co-author Clare Garvie said. “With only a few exceptions, there are no laws governing police use of the technology, no standards ensuring its accuracy, and no systems checking for bias. It’s a wild west.”
Despite the outrage generated by these reports, Congress has done nothing to roll back this facial recognition program.
There are many technical and legal problems with facial recognition, including significant concerns about the accuracy of the technology, particularly when reading the facial features of minority populations. During a test run by the ACLU of Northern California, facial recognition misidentified 26 members of the California legislature as people in a database of arrest photos.
With facial recognition technology, police and other government officials have the capability to track individuals in real-time. These systems allow law enforcement agents to use video cameras and continually scan everybody who walks by. According to the report, several major police departments have expressed an interest in this type of real-time tracking. Documents revealed agencies in at least five major cities, including Los Angeles, either claimed to run real-time face recognition off of street cameras, bought technology with the capability, or expressed written interest in buying it.
In all likelihood, the federal government heavily involves itself in helping state and local agencies obtain this technology. The feds provide grant money to local law enforcement agencies for a vast array of surveillance gear, including ALPRs, stingray devices and drones. The federal government essentially encourages and funds a giant nationwide surveillance net and then taps into the information via fusion centers and the Information Sharing Environment (ISE).
Fusion centers were sold as a tool to combat terrorism, but that is not how they are being used. The ACLU pointed to a bipartisan congressional report to demonstrate the true nature of government fusion centers: “They haven’t contributed anything meaningful to counterterrorism efforts. Instead, they have largely served as police surveillance and information sharing nodes for law enforcement efforts targeting the frequent subjects of police attention: Black and brown people, immigrants, dissidents, and the poor.”
Fusion centers operate within the broader ISE. According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators…have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant. Known ISE partners include the Office of Director of National Intelligence which oversees 17 federal agencies and organizations, including the NSA. ISE utilizes these partnerships to collect and share data on the millions of unwitting people they track.
Reports that the Berkeley Police Department in cooperation with a federal fusion center deployed cameras equipped to surveil a “free speech” rally and Antifa counterprotests provided the first solid link between the federal government and local authorities in facial recognition surveillance.
In a nutshell, without state and local cooperation, the feds have a much more difficult time gathering information. Passage of state laws and local ordinances banning and limiting facial recognition eliminates one avenue for gathering facial recognition data. Simply put, data that doesn’t exist cannot be entered into federal databases.
HB389 was referred to the House State Affairs Committee where it must get a hearing and pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.