Facebook lobbying against facial recognition laws

August 1, 2017 - 

Facebook has intensified its state lobbying in the wake of an ongoing lawsuit filed in Illinois, but is doing so by engaging industry groups like the Internet Association and CompTIA to deal directly with lawmakers, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity published by the Daily Beast.

A lawsuit initially filed by Illinois resident Carlo Licata in 2015 alleges that Facebook violated the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), which requires consent for biometric data collection, with its application of facial recognition technology to stored images. Plaintiffs also claim that Facebook owes them for using their data without permission to build DeepFace, which could result in a fine of up to $5,000 per person.

As reported by Biometric Update in May, five states recently considered adopting similar laws to Illinois’ BIPA. Washington passed a limited version, and efforts in Montana, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Alaska to pass legislation introducing data privacy rules to facial recognition were unsuccessful, the Beast reports. Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology Executive Director Alvaro Bedoya told Bloomberg that Washington’s legislation was a watered-down version of the Illinois’ law at best.

“Their approach has been, ‘If you sue us, it doesn’t apply to us; if you say it does apply to us, we’ll try to change the law,’” Bedoya said. “It is only laws like Illinois’ that could put some kind of check on this authority, so it is no coincidence that [Facebook] would like to see this law undone. This is the strongest privacy law in the nation. If it goes away, that’s a big deal.”

The failure of the proposed legislation may be due in significant part to the increased lobbying of Facebook, which spent over $670,000 lobbying state officials according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and $8.7 million lobbying the federal government according to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2016. Those efforts represent increases of 64 percent from 2014, and 500 percent from 2011, respectively. The Center for Public Integrity was told by a source in the Illinois Legislature that CompTIA had led an attempt to amend the definition of facial recognition in BIPA, and CompTIA confirmed Facebook is one of its members, though the association is not listed by Facebook among organizations it is affiliated with on its website.

Washington state Rep. Jeff Morris was one of the Washington bill’s sponsors told the Center for Public Integrity that tech companies including Microsoft, Amazon, and Google supported the final version, but Facebook did not. Morris also says CompTIA uses an “NRA approach” to lobbying, resisting all regulation.

Dr. Joseph Atick, who was part of the team which developed facial recognition technology at Rockefeller University in the 1990s, says Facebook’s system could recognize every individual on Earth. “When we invented face recognition, there was no database,” he says.

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About Chris Burt

Chris Burt is a writer and contributor to Biometric Update. He has also written nonfiction about information technology, dramatic arts, sports culture, and fantasy basketball, as well as fiction about a doomed astronaut. He lives in Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter @AFakeChrisBurt."