By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Big Brother’s doing a bit more than just watching you these days.
Remember the last time you got your driver’s license renewed? You may recall the procedure for taking your picture was a bit different than it used to be.
Instead of the usual “smile” you might have been told to do no such thing — very specifically. To be as expressionless as possible. And that the system seemed more “high-tech” than it used to be. Instead of receiving your new license on-site, it would be mailed to you in a week or so — from some unspecified “secure location,” perhaps.
You may have been told or seen signs or been given literature explaining that the new way of taking your picture is part of new security measures designed to make it harder for people to manufacture fake IDs (since a driver’s license is the de facto national ID in this country).
But they probably didn’t mention that the pictures — digitized images, actually — were to be downloaded into a new database that uses facial recognition software to “scan” for (are you surprised?) Terrorists — among other things.
Only it’s ordinary Americans who are being terrorized.
As The Boston Globe reports, Massachussetts resident John H. Gass had his license revoked after the facial recognition Hive Mind deemed him an un-Person. Glass had done nothing, though — other than being tardy opening his mail, including a threatening letter from the Massachussetts Registry of Motor Vehicles demanding that he prove the guy pictured on his DL was, in fact, him.
Here’s where it gets interesting — and depressing.
Gass had already established his identity — apparently, to the satisfaction of the state motor vehicle authorities — at the time his license was originally issued. Just like everyone else who applies for a driver’s license. Now it — well, a computer — demanded he prove it again. On his nickel. On his own time.
“Or else” being — no more driving privileges for you.
Gass tried to do so — for ten days, according to The Globe.
First, he called the Motor Vehicle Registry, explaining that he’d forgotten to open his mail, including the letter they’d sent dated March 22, which notified him his license had been revoked effective April 1. The bureaucrats at the registry advised him his digitized image had been “flagged” by the computer because it was similar in appearance to the image of someone else. Now it was up to him, said the Registry drone, to come to them with documents to prove his identity.
Remember, Gass, like everyone else who has a driver’s license, had to provide such documentation at the time the driver’s license was issued. He had complied with the letter of the law. But now the law had changed. The arbitrary determination of a computer had resulted in the capricious revocation of his driver’s license.
This is of a piece with the TSA “No Fly” lists that have created nightmare hassles for people just trying to board a plane whose only association with “Islamic Terrorism” is that they watched Syriana a couple of years back. Usually not even that.
“I was shocked,’’ Gass said in a recent interview. “As far as I was concerned, I had done nothing wrong.’’
Meanwhile, his license would remain revoked — no small thing for Gass, who drives for a living.
So Gass brought his birth certificate and Social Security card to the Registry to establish that he was in fact himself (again). Insufficient. The drones demanded he also produce additional documents with his current address on them. By this time, Gass had obtained the assistance of a lawyer, who provided the registry drones with the documents and on April 14, at last, his driving privileges were restored.
Gass is suing the state, demanding a court an injunction blocking the MA Motor Vehicle Registry from revoking anyone’s driver’s license without at least giving them a hearing first.
May the Force be with him.
And with the rest of us, too — because this business is not confined to that imprisoned land, The People’s Republic of Massachussetts. At least 34 states are also using facial recognition software — typically (as in the case of MA) funded by a “grant” from the Department of Homeland Security.
Massachussetts received $1.5 million taxpayer dollars to harass the taxpayers of Massachussetts, for instance.
“The advantage if securing the identity of 4 1/2 million drivers is of considerable state interest,” says MA Motor Vehicle Registry Obergruppenfuhrer Rachel Kaprielian. “We send out 1,500 suspension letters every day,” she croons.
And it’s up to each and every one of these hapless recipients to prove to the state that the state is wrong — another example of the casual upending of a basic tenet of what was once our common heritage in the West: That you are innocent until proven guilty.
Not the reverse.
“There are mistakes that can be made,” admits Kaprielian.
But that’s not the state’s problem, of course. It is Gass’s problem.
And quite possibly, your problem, too.