Governor Cuomo Announces Major Enhancement to Department of Motor Vehicles' Facial Recognition Program

New System Solidifies New York as National Leader in Use of Facial Recognition Technology, Further Protecting New Yorkers from High-Risk Drivers and Fraud.

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A close up of a New York State Class D Driver's License.

Photo by: Governor Cuomo's Office.

Albany, NY - February 22nd, 2016 - Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a major enhancement to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles' facial recognition program to help combat identity theft and fraud, in addition to removing high-risk drivers from the road.

The Department of Motor Vehicles, a national leader in the use of facial recognition technology, recently implemented an improved system that doubles the number of measurement points mapped to each digitized driver photograph to vastly improve the system's ability to match a photograph to one already in the database.

"This software is helping the DMV crack down on people who break the law and ultimately keep the roads safer for drivers and passengers," said Governor Cuomo. "New York has quickly become a national leader in implementing this technology, and we will continue to raise the bar to ensure safer and more secure communities statewide."

The Department's facial recognition software converts digital facial photographs into mathematical algorithms and presents trained staff with photo images that have been identified as having similar algorithms. Photos are run against more than 8,000 new photos taken each day at DMV offices statewide, as well as about 16 million photos already in DMV's database.

The new system increases the number of measurement points on the face from 64 to 128, and allows for the ability to overlay images, invert colors, and convert images to black and white to better see scars and identifying features on the face. Different hair styles, glasses, and other features that change over time – including those that evolve as a subject ages – do not prevent the system from matching photographs. The Department will not issue a driver license or non-driver ID until the newly captured photograph is cleared through the new facial recognition system.

New York State Executive Deputy Commissioner Terri Egan said, "DMV continues to use the latest technology to achieve our goal of 'one driver, one record' and keep New Yorkers safe by holding individuals accountable who try to exploit state licensing systems. I'm pleased that we are expanding the facial recognition program to catch motorists who shouldn’t be on the road: those who evade tickets, commit fraud, and carry out extreme measures to disobey the law."

The Department's Division of Field Investigation first piloted facial recognition through asset forfeiture funds in 2008 and was continued through federal grants in the amount of $1.6 million in 2010 and $400,000 in 2013. It is primarily used to confirm the identities of individuals attempt to change, renew, or obtain more than one driver license or non-driver ID. The program also focuses on for-hire drivers and those with commercial driver licenses, due to their potential to put more people, especially those they are transporting, in danger.

A new pilot program is also helping investigators to work with other states to stop motorists who illegally obtain licenses from more than one state and use them to commit fraud in other states. This past Summer, New York and New Jersey motor vehicle agencies became the first to cooperatively use facial recognition technology to combat license fraud and identity theft across state lines, leading to the arrests of three individuals for filing false instruments and falsifying business records.

Since the facial recognition technology was implemented in 2010, more than 3,600 individuals have been arrested for possessing multiple licenses. Additionally, more than 10,500 facial recognition cases have been solved administratively. If the transactions are too old to pursue criminal prosecution, DMV is still able to hold subjects accountable by revoking licenses and moving all tickets, convictions, and crashes to the individual’s true record. Individuals who are arrested based on facial recognition matches are typically charged with filing a false instrument, tampering with public records, and forgery.

Cases in which facial recognition technology has helped investigators catch the perpetrators include:

  • A man who collected more than $80,000 in fraudulent Social Security benefits under two identities.
  • A woman who collected $334,000 in fraudulent benefits from the New York State Insurance Fund while working under an alias, and collected $190,000 in fraudulent Social Security benefits while working under an alias.
  • A man who created two identities and possessed two Class E licenses (allowing him to drive taxis, liveries, or limos): one that was valid and ensured he was able to keep driving, and one that was suspended and revoked in 2003 for DWI. He was found to have a total of 268 open suspensions and two open revocations on the license that was not valid.

Based on data gathered from 2010 to 2013 by State University of New York's Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research, drivers with multiple license records are far more likely than all licensed drivers to be involved in a crash (67 percent versus 43 percent) and to be convicted of traffic-related violations.

They are also more likely than all licensed drivers to be convicted of unlicensed operation (49 percent versus eight percent), seat belt violations (57 percent versus 21 percent), and impaired driving (ten percent versus two percent), among other crimes, posing a serious traffic safety risk on New York’s roadways.

For more information about the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, click here.