2011: A DMV Odyssey

2011 a dmv odyssey

[Editor’s Note: This piece, by Eric Peters, has been republished from the National Motorist’s Association blog. It originally appeared at epautos.com.]

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.

“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he’d forgotten to open his mail, including the letter they’d sent dated March 22, which notified him his license had been revoked effective April 1.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.

This piece, by Eric Peters, originally appeared at www.epautos.com

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3 of 30 comments
  • Chuckrs Chuckrs on Aug 08, 2011

    We all know there are businesses that are too big to fail - and should be cut down to size so they can fail without much harm. It is long past time to look at government - at all levels - the same way. DHS, under the megalomaniacal leadership of Janet Napolitano, should simply be abolished. From TSA's sorry record to grants provided to organizations like the MA DMV which apparently lacks the competence to assess and use this 'technology', DHS has an unparalleled track record. ps - Please note that I did not refer to Napolitano as HeimatsicherheitsdienstGruppenFuehrer. Just too damn long and hard to spell.

  • Likenissan Likenissan on Aug 09, 2011

    Do the math!!! If MA has 4.5 million drivers, and licences last 4 years (I am guessing, I do not live there) then DMV does on average 4326 renewals a day if they work 5 days a week. If they also issue 1500 revocation letters a day, then their system is horribly unreliable. I assume this facial recognition test is not the only grounds for revocation, but still 1500 revocations a day of any/all kinds is excessive, and perhaps something that warrants its own TTAC article.

    • SPPPP SPPPP on Aug 09, 2011

      I agree, that is very suspicious. Half a million drivers get their license suspended every year? Out of 4.5 million drivers? That's insane!

  • Tassos And all 3 were ordered by Fisker's mother. Seriously, given Fisker's terrible record of Failure in the past, only an utter loser, (for example, VGhost or Art Vandelay?), looking for a BEV terrible enough to be a proper replacement of his 11 mile range Fiat 500E, would order one of these. (apart from Fisker's mother)
  • Tassos And all 3 of them were ordered by Fisker's mother.Seriously, after Fisker's DISMAL record of UTTER FAILURE in the past, only a GOD DAMNED MORON would order this one.
  • RHD Any truth to the unconfirmed rumor that the new, larger model will be called the bZ6X? We could surmise that with a generous back seat it certainly should be!
  • Damon Thomas Adding to the POSITIVES... It's a pretty fun car to mod
  • GregLocock Two adjacent states in Australia have different attitudes to roadworthy inspections. In NSW they are annual. In Victoria they only occur at change of ownership. As you'd expect this leads to many people in Vic keeping their old car.So if the worrywarts are correct Victoria's roads would be full of beaten up cars and so have a high accident rate compared with NSW. Oh well, the stats don't agree.https://www.lhd.com.au/lhd-insights/australian-road-death-statistics/