FACIAL RECOGNITION: DOT Helps Catch 40-Year Fugitive

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A fugitive on the run for 40 years has been arrested all because of his driver’s license photo.

Police say 68-year-old Ronald Carnes was a fugitive since he escaped from prison in 1973. This week he was caught in Waterloo because of facial recognition software used by the Iowa State Department of Transportation.

For 40-years, the escaped prisoner stayed one step ahead of the law after he was convicted of armed robbery in North Carolina.

"We want to know who we're dealing with. We want to know what motivates them, which is what we did in this case,” explained Paul Steier with Iowa DOT’s Bureau of Identity Protection. “What would motivate someone to change their identity? So this situation we started looking at the facts and determined it's something potentially very serious."

ronald carnesCarnes escaped from prison in 1973. His freedom came to an end because of the Department of Transportation's facial recognition software. He apparently tried to register a vehicle and apply for a driver’s license using different names. The software recognized his picture setting up red flags.

When you get your picture taken for your Iowa driver’s license, eye locations are measured by the computer and the image is converted to a template.

That's why you can't smile for your photo anymore because it's difficult for the computer to read.

The computer converts that template to an algorithm. In this case, a series of lines and dots the computer can better understand and compares it to other templates in the system looking for possible matches.

The same technology was used by police to identify one of the Boston marathon bombers. And it's been used since 2007 in Iowa to identify hundreds of potential identity thieves.

Mark Andrews came in today to have his driver’s license renewed. He had no idea that his photo could be used to combat fraud or track down criminals. Like most people we talked with, Andrews says he's ok with it, but it's “kind of creepy.”

"Just the notion that folks, that machines are always watching. But you know what? If you're not doing anything wrong I can't imagine it would be a bad thing," Andrews said.

But not everyone agrees. Some think this is big brother taken to a whole new level.

"It makes me a little uncomfortable just on the aspect that we do have our rights. We should be entitled to our privacy.   I mean it's tough to say where that grey line needs to be on protection versus privacy," Chris Pardekooper said.

Carnes is being held in Black Hawk County Jail. He will likely be returned to North Carolina to finish serving his time. He has 17-more years left on his 20-year sentence.


  • OHMY

    I would want to have felons scooped up by facial recognition. Privacy is sacred to everyone. But a person breaking the law, convicted, sentenced, and actively running from those consequences, I’d say their privacy is null and void.

  • getreal

    I guess the next time I get a drivers license picture, I should consider it a mug shot. I suppose they will register finger prints next when you touch the counter.

  • If it works, it works

    If it helps get criminals off the streets, go for it. If you think this is the biggest invasion of your privacy, well, keep your head in the sand.

  • maxartman

    So when one man escapes prison (a responsibility of the prison) we are all forced to have our mug shots taken? I disagree. It’s not our fault the prison didn’t handle it. Take responsibility – but don’t impose your error on me.

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