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Privacy task force to examine sheriff's plan

The state will evaluate whether comparing suspects' photos with driver's license pictures is a violation of rights.

By LISA GREENE

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 23, 2000


Gov. Jeb Bush and his privacy task force will look at whether Pinellas County's plan to match photos of criminal suspects with driver's license pictures violates privacy rights.

"The privacy task force specifically addresses this," Bush spokeswoman Katie Baur said Friday. "In their final recommendations, they will ask the Legislature to look at this issue very closely to make sure we are protecting the privacy rights of our citizens."

Those recommendations are due by Feb. 1.

Baur said neither the group nor Bush has taken a position on the photo ID technology. But the county's photo ID plan would be a "secondary use of personal information," Baur said.

The task force is looking at how information the government gathers about residents is used or, in some cases, misused. Social Security numbers and other information in public records can be used by marketers or taken by criminals.

Bush "has some concerns that through technology, the privacy of individual citizens might be in jeopardy," Baur said.

A bill signed by President Clinton on Thursday gives the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office $3.5-million to start a face recognition technology program.

The sheriff plans to use a computer program to compare surveillance camera photos and composite sketches of criminal suspects with databases of photos.

The sheriff plans to start the program with its database of jail booking pictures, then start comparing suspects' photos with pictures in the Florida driver's license database.

Sheriff Everett Rice said the program would be a groundbreaking investigative tool, but several local defense lawyers said that using driver's license photos would violate citizens' privacy rights.

The sheriff's office welcomes the scrutiny from Bush and the task force, said spokeswoman Marianne Pasha.

"I would think it would be helpful," Pasha said. "You've got to look at all aspects of a new technology."

But she said the department remains confident that the technology would help catch crooks without hurting citizens' privacy.

Meanwhile, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has yet to decide whether Pinellas County could use the program with the driver's license database. The department has to make sure it wouldn't cause technical problems or strain the database, said spokesman Bob Sanchez.

Recent coverage

All drivers may appear in digital lineups (December 22, 2000)

For your own sake, draw the line with the Social Security number (August 27, 2000)

The erosion of privacy (July 6, 1999)

Related links

Viisage Technology website

How facial recognition works

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