COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTVN) -- For years, law enforcement officers have been able to search a database of driver's license photos and mug shots, but for the past two months they've been using facial recognition software to make those searches.
"Its purpose is to give the investigator a lead that he or she can follow up on," DeWine said.
At a Monday news conference, DeWine said he didn't think announcing the start of the program on June 6 was a big deal because 29 other states and federal agencies like the FBI are already using it. 2,667 searches have been performed on the system since it was launched.
"I think in hindsight, if I had to do it over again, we would have put out a release the day it went up or before that," he said.
The system was made public in a story on Sunday in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
DeWine said the system was something law enforcement has been asking for. He said it came up in nine regional meetings he held with police officers.
Privacy concerns have been raised, but DeWine insists the system is only available to law enforcement officers. Misuse of the system is a fifth degree felony. A panel of judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and law enforcement officials will take a second look at the protocols for using the system to see if any changes need to be made.
"I don't hesitate a minute to tell you I'm proud of this technology, I'm proud of what we're doing and it's going to save lives," he said.
The ACLU of Ohio is now calling on DeWine to shut down the program.
The time for press conferences and advisory boards was months ago,” said ACLU of Ohio Associate Director Gary Daniels. “This system needs to be shut down until there are meaningful, documented rules in place to keep this information secure, protect the privacy of innocent people, and prevent government abuse of this new tool."
DeWine says in the nearly three months the system has been active there have already been success stories. One came from Solon where a baby was found with a stroller, car seat, diaper bag, and bloody baby wipes. A family photo was also found and DeWine says they were able to run it through the system to locate family members. The system could also be used to identify elderly people who wonder off without an ID or bodies where no ID is found.
The system could also prove useful in solving robberies where the crime is caught on camera.
"If the surveillance picture is good enough then that could be compared to the BMV records and find out who it is," he said.
David Pepper, the Democrat running to unseat DeWine next year, issued a statement blasting the Republican DeWine.
"It is highly irresponsible for the Attorney General of Ohio to launch something this expansive and this intrusive into the lives of law-abiding citizens without ensuring the proper protocols were already in place to protect our privacy,” Pepper said. “To have kept this a secret for this long only makes it worse.”
DeWine also addressed the processing of old rape kits during the news conference. He said they're making progress in clearing out a backlog of 3,446 kits. So far DeWine says the state crime lab has tested 1,436 with one in three coming back with a hit on the state's DNA database. That database is made up of felons.
The work is far from over though. DeWine says they originally thought there were about 4,000 of the rape kits statewide, but it turns out Cleveland alone has 4,000 old rape kits that need to be tested. The state has hired an additional six forensic scientists to help deal with the backlog.