Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said Monday that his agency won’t allow federal agents to have open-ended access to the state’s new Real ID database system.

Dunlap said his office launched Maine’s Real ID database on July 1. Mainers can now purchase a Real ID compliant driver’s license or identification card at any Bureau of Motor Vehicles office.

Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said he sees facial recognition photos and personal information as private.  Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file photo

Dunlap said that while several states allow federal law enforcement agencies to conduct wide-ranging facial recognition searches to track down suspects in crimes, that won’t be the case in Maine. If a federal agency such as the FBI or Immigration and Customs Enforcement wants to see a person’s photograph, they will need to go through the Secretary of State’s Division of Enforcement for approval.

Dunlap said his office is using facial recognition technology in its Real ID system, but wholesale scanning of that database, whether it comes from federal or local law enforcement, won’t be permitted.

“Our core function is to help law enforcement in whatever way we can. We’ll help them, but we are not going to let them go on a fishing expedition,” Dunlap said in a telephone interview. He said he regards facial recognition photos and personal information as private.

“We’re very jealous about guarding that information. It belongs to the people,” he said.


Dunlap’s remarks were made shortly after the Washington Post reported that agents for the FBI and ICE have turned some state driver license databases into facial-recognition gold mines, using them as “the bedrock of an unprecedented surveillance infrastructure.”

Twenty-one states, including Texas and Pennsylvania, allow the FBI and federal agencies to scan driver license photos. Some of the agreements with states stipulate some rules for the searches, including that each must be relevant to a criminal investigation.

Dunlap said the Secretary of State’s Office cooperates with Maine law enforcement agencies now, but the request must be justified. For example, if Maine State Police want to know what a suspect involved in an armed standoff looks like, the secretary of state’s Division of Enforcement will allow them to access the suspect’s driver’s license photo.

Dunlap said last week’s launch of the Real ID database means the need to protect that repository of personal information from hackers or anyone seeking to abuse it is greater than ever.

Under the new system, any person who wants a Real ID license will be able to obtain one through a Bureau of Motor Vehicles office.

In addition to satisfying standard license requirements, Real ID applicants must have their photograph taken and provide the BMV with at least one document that establishes their identity, date of birth and proof of U.S. citizenship.


They also must provide one document that establishes proof that person has a Social Security number as well as two documents establishing proof of state residence. That might include a utility bill, paycheck stub or mortgage statement.

After Oct. 1, 2020, anyone who does not possess a Real ID will need to produce a passport or other acceptable identifying document if they want to board a commercial aircraft or access a secure federal property.

A Maine resident does not need a Real ID to drive, vote, purchase alcohol or tobacco or to enter a post office.

A Real ID license will cost $55 for anyone under 65, and will cost $41 for anyone 65 years or older.

The Real ID system will cost the state $2.5 million to implement. Maine law required that the new system be in place by July 1.




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