U.S. right to review consumer facial recognition technology

December 13, 2013 - 

The U.S. Government recently announced that it will review the privacy implications of facial recognition technology.  As BiometricUpdate.com originally reported, the National Telecommunication and Information Administration has announced that a new consultation process will begin in Feburary to examine the commercial use of the technology.

The objective of the consultation, according to the Obama administration, is to develop a voluntary, enforceable code of conduct that specifies how the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights applies to facial recognition technology.  Concerns about the technology first arose when Facebook began cataloging user profile pictures into a system that allowed the firm to automatically tag photos of its users.

According to the administration, stakeholders will discuss how best facial recognition data can be secured.  In other words, while people have the right to protect the use of their name, this process will examine if individuals have protections and controls over technologies that can collect, collate and even geo-locate information about them based on facial likeness.

Several Democratic senators have applauded the Commerce Department decision to investigate the situation.  “Clear policies that support consumer privacy are crucial as facial recognition technology is developed and deployed,” said Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

The proposed policies come as more firms build facial recognition technology into their features.  As blogger Steve Cook pointed out recently, the younger generation will likely embrace biometrics, such as facial and voice recognition, as such technology is integrated into gaming platforms and other consumer electronics.

Indeed, recent polling conducted by CNN/Time/Orc have found that Americans are willing to increasing tolerate facial recognition in public places.

“Facial recognition technology has the potential to improve services for consumers, support innovation by businesses, and affect identification and authentication online and offline,” Larry Strickling, the administrator of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration told The Hill. “However, the technology poses distinct consumer privacy challenges and the importance of securing faceprints and ensuring consumers’ appropriate control over their data is clear.”

BiometricUpdate.com reported that a new report from Research and Markets estimates that the global facial recognition market is projected to grow at a CAGR of nearly 25 percent between 2012 and 2016.

While a fast rate of growth is projected, their research estimates that most of this growth will occur by way of U.S. Government spending in such areas as: intelligence and defense.  Despite a mandated austere fiscal policy which the Biometric Research Group has described recently in a Biometric Research Note, the U.S. Government still is projected to allocate a tremendous amount of its spending authority on national security and intelligence matters, which includes spending on biometric technology.

These measures, however, will not be subjected to an open, consultative process like that directed at consumer applications.  This is a shame, since public oversight over how the public is impacted by the national security implementation of such technology is even more important and pertinent than how such technologies impact the public in consumer situations.  Further, in light of the latest Edward Snowden disclosures on how the U.S. national security apparatus interfaces with consumer-based technologies, such as Google, public oversight over national security applications, especially those leveraging biometrics, is warranted and recommended.

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About Rawlson King

Rawlson O’Neil King is a contributing editor at BiometricUpdate.com and is an experienced communications professional, management consultant, trade journalist and author who recently published a book about control and electronic networks and who has written numerous articles in trade publications and academic journals about smart home and building technologies. Follow him @rawlsonking2.