The discovery that a fugitive from North Carolina was living in Iowa came after software used by the Iowa Department of Transportation found the man had applied for two driver’s licenses. DOT director of Investigations and Identity Theft Paul Steier says the software has been one of the best tools available to help prevent identity theft from Iowans. “We investigate an average of 125 to probably 175 cases a year that were based on our facial recognition results,” Steier says. “From there we have to actually work an investigation — we just don’t take those results and go to the court with them.”
While the recent case turned up a man who had been fleeing the law for 41 years, Steier says most cases are people trying to steal somebody’s identity for financial gain. “When we issue a license, that image is stored, so if somebody else would try come in some day and try to obtain a license under your name or my name, that system should catch the fact that it’s not a match — it doesn’t match what’s on file, it’s not the same,” Steier says. “And hopefully it stops a fraud from occurring or somebody from getting an official state-issued document showing them as being somebody else than they really are.”
The system is one of the reasons why the DOT asks you not to give a big wide smile when they take your driver’s license picture. “Neutral facial expression, that gives us the best result. So, in order to protect our identities, the best thing that we can have people do is give us a neutral facial expression — a minimal smile — and that way the system will have better results,” Steier says. He says the DOT issues between 2 and 3,000 licenses a day.
The facial recognition system was upgraded last fall and now gives investigators like Steier more options in dealing with the pictures. “If we have a photograph of someone that’s not maybe the best photograph, we can actually take software and enhance that image and make it a better quality photograph. Because the better the quality of the image,the better the results of the facial recognition inquiry, and the better possibility for either a no match or a positive match,” Steier says.
The DOT started using the facial recognition system in 2008, but has photos going back 13 years that the system can check.