- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Minutes after an armored car made its delivery of cash to the EAB bank in Lake Success, N.Y., the masked robbers struck.

Claude Bird and his accomplice, a man known only as “Angel,” escaped with $240,000 on that day in March 1993, and none of the money was ever recovered.

Bird was tracked by law enforcement to his native country of Jamaica, where he escaped from jail the following year while awaiting extradition.

He was a free man for the next 17 years, but now he is back behind bars, thanks to new facial-recognition technology deployed by New York’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

On Tuesday, Gov. David A. Paterson and other New York officials touted the benefits of the new system, which was deployed across the state in February. They said it had helped them arrest more than 150 would-be imposters, including Bird, as well as an Egyptian on the terrorist watch list and a former Mafia hit man.

The new technology, which was tested for two years to iron out potential wrinkles in its deployment, had helped “bolster national security, neighborhood security and highway safety,” Mr. Paterson said at a press briefing in New York City.

“I am tremendously proud of the success we have seen in the past six months,” the governor added, appealing to other states to follow New York’s example and predicting the technology would soon spread nationwide.

“The reality is, there will be a time, we hope, when this becomes a national policy,” Mr. Paterson said.

Thirty-five states currently use some form of facial-recognition technology, according to AAMVA, the Association of American Motor Vehicle Administrators.

The $2.5 million system, paid for with a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, basically converts the digital photograph of an applicant into a mathematical algorithm — a numerical representation of the unique and relatively permanent underlying structures of the face.

The technology makes “what was previously science fiction … a reality,” Franklin County District Attorney Derek P. Champagne told reporters at the briefing.

Each applicant for a new or renewed license … about 7,000 New Yorkers every weekday — is photographed, and the picture is compared to the 15 million already on file.

The software — created by L-1 Identity Solutions Inc. of Stamford, Conn. — flags algorithms that are similar so that staffers can examine both photos.

This is known as “one-to-many” matching, said AAMVA’s Director of Identity Standards Geoffrey Slagel. He said “the overwhelming majority” of the 35 states using the technology use it this way. The rest do what is known as “one-to-one” matching instead, where renewal photographs are compared to previous pictures of that applicant only, to stop people trying to renew a license that does not belong to them and get their photo on it.

Mr. Slagel said that the pace of adoption of the technology was generally determined by finances not politics. “The driver is money, not acceptance,” he said.

“The cost to the state to implement this program is essentially zero,” New York DMV Commissioner David J. Swarts told the briefing.

The state paid for its pilot of the technology with $50,000 in seized assets from major criminal cases investigated by the DMV, spokesman Ken Brown explained later. The $2.5 million cost of buying and running the technology for the first three years was met in full by a federal homeland security grant.

“We haven’t looked at the out year budget requirements” beyond that time yet, Mr. Brown said.

Attempting to obtain a license under a false name is a felony in New York, so even those imposters who are not already wanted by the police can be charged, said Owen McShane, director of field investigations for New York’s DMV.

When Bird applied for a driver’s license in April, investigators found that his photo matched that of a man issued a license in 2005 under the name Faraj Bilal. After a brief records check, they discovered that Mr. Bilal was long dead and Bird was wanted by Nassau County police.

Nassau Country district attorney’s office investigators believe he re-entered the country from Canada in 1994 or 1995, a year after his escape from the Jamaican jail, spokeswoman Carol Trottere told The Washington Times.

“As a matter of practicality,” the DMV cannot check the names of everyone applying for a license against a list of those wanted, said spokesman Ken Brown. Without the new technology flagging up his previous license in a different name, Bird would not have been found out.

About two-thirds of those caught by the new system appeared to be scofflaws who were attempting to obtain a new identity to avoid suspension or revocation of their driving license, officials said.

But others included an Egyptian man holding four New York driver’s licenses under different names, one of which was on the U.S. “no-fly” list — a subset of the federal terrorist watch list — and a former Mafia hit man whose license had been revoked while he was in prison.

Mr. McShane, the chief investigator, said that the DMV was also going through all 15 million photos on file, trying to weed out other multiple identity license holders.

Where imposters had obtained their licenses so long ago that the statute of limitations meant they could not be criminally charged, he said, their multiple driver license records would be merged, so that they could no longer take advantage of a clean record if they had a soiled one in a different name.

“All states have these problems … but [in] New York, with a target on our back … we need to be a national leader” in fighting the problems, Mr. Paterson said.

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