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Facial recognition

The Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) uses facial recognition technology to make sure a person has only one driver license or identification card. The agency’s goal is to ensure the integrity of driver licenses and ID cards while protecting the personal information of all Washingtonians.

How does the facial recognition system work?

Using a driver license or ID card photo, DOL’s facial recognition software creates a digital template of facial features such as eye sockets, cheekbones, and sides of the mouth.

The system compares the template with all of the other photos already in our database to determine if someone is attempting to apply for a license using someone else’s identity or an alias. If a potential match is found, it is flagged for review by specially trained DOL staff.

Why does DOL use facial recognition?

We use facial recognition technology to ensure an applicant does not have more than one driver license or an ID issued under a different identity. State law authorizes the use of facial recognition for a standard driver license or identification card, and requires a biometric matching system for enhanced driver licenses and ID cards.

What happens if DOL finds a match?

  • DOL staff review to see if the match is the result of an administrative issue, such as a name change or a person being a twin.
  • If needed, staff conduct a multitier investigation (reviewed by supervisor and peers) to determine if someone may have violated state law. For example:
    • Acquiring someone else’s identity for financial gain
    • Creating an alias to avoid a license suspension
  • If DOL determines the person may have violated state law, DOL notifies the person and offers due process
  • Depending on the violation, actions may include license suspension up to 364 days.
  • Cases involving 3 or more victims and more than $5,000 financial loss are referred to the Washington State Patrol Identity Theft Unit.

Data privacy facts

  • DOL does not provide access to its facial recognition database to any outside entity.
  • Per state law, DOL will run a photo through facial recognition for a law enforcement entity with a court order to determine whether the person has been issued a driver license or ID under a different name.
  • If a match occurs, DOL provides to the law enforcement entity:
    • Name
    • Photo
    • Date of birth
    • Driver license or ID card number
    • Card issuance date
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