GAO report shows a need for privacy guidelines regarding facial recognition

August 1, 2015 - 

Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) said the recently-released Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on facial recognition technology serves as “a reminder” that federal laws relating to the technology must be amended in order to protect privacy, according to a report by Broadcasting Cable.

In the report, the GAO found that federal laws do not actively address the technology, particularly in regards to how facial recognition information can be used or shared.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration held a stakeholder meeting earlier this week to review two sets of stakeholder draft guidelines.

Though the GAO report said that these efforts to implement volunteer guidelines is “a positive step toward incorporating privacy considerations into the development and use of facial recognition technology,” it also emphasized that views “vary” on the effectiveness of such volunteer guidelines.

Several privacy groups have dropped out of the facial recognition multistakeholder process, stating that they are uncertain the meetings will result in effective best practices.

The report found that digital signs, which typically come in the fort of TV monitors in stores or Kiosks displaying advertising, were being used to “recognize characteristics of the viewer, such as gender or age range, and target advertisements accordingly.”

The report also states that Google said it does not share, nor does it have plans to share, “information associated with facial recognition technology without user consent, except in very limited circumstances as described in its privacy policy (i.e., with domain administrators, for external processing by company affiliates or trusted parties, or for legal reasons)”.

Despite Google’s denial of sharing the facial recognition data with third-parties, it is unclear what external processing by those parties would entail.

The report is the result of Franken’s request last year to the GAO to examine the privacy implications of the commercial use of facial recognition technology.

“The newly released report raises serious concerns about how companies are collecting, using, and storing our most sensitive personal information,” said Franken. “I believe that all Americans have a fundamental right to privacy, which is why it’s important that, at the very least, the tech industry adopts strong, industry-wide standards for facial recognition technology.

“But what we really need are federal standards that address facial recognition privacy by enhancing our consumer privacy framework…. the privacy issues stakeholders have raised about facial recognition technology and other biometric technologies serve as yet another example of the need to adapt federal privacy law to reflect new technologies.”

These privacy issues include that the technology can be used to monitor people’s movements, to identify and discriminate against the poor, elderly or minorities, or to ensure that those individuals who opt out of using the technology are denied access to certain products or services.

Although the GAO did not make any rash conclusions in the report, it did recommend that “Congress consider strengthening the consumer privacy framework to reflect” facial recognition technology.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.