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Biometrics are in and anonymity out so fight for democratic rights, FedID keynote argues



Civil libertarians should not fear facial recognition and other biometrics, but the technologies must be correctly regulated to prevent negative consequences to democracy, and will fundamentally change the way people think about privacy, constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University told an audience at the AFCEA International Federal Identity (FedID) Forum and Expo in Tampa, Florida.

AFCEA’s Signal reports that Turley told attendees of his closing keynote address that facial recognition “is perfectly suited to blow privacy law to pieces,” and noted that the legal protections of privacy in the U.S. are designed to limit the government, but the greater threat from biometrics is from private and commercial products.

Turley argues that the foundation of U.S. privacy law is the establishment of “reasonable expectations” of privacy as the criteria for allowable action in the Katz vs. United States decision. With any change in expectation, the scope of government changes, and with any increase in government surveillance practice, reasonable expectations are adjusted.

“We are going to lose this battle if we fight on conventional privacy grounds, I am 100 percent confident of that,” he stated.

The privacy community was previously able to rely on the limits of technological capacity to act as a barrier against mass surveillance, but “that barrier has collapsed,” according to Turley. The EU approach, being based on consent, will not prevent privacy from eroding, as “the public wants the products.”

Regulation is needed, Turley says, but the civil libertarians should recognize the problems caused by the inaccuracy of the identification practices facial recognition is being implemented to improve or replace. Rather than protecting anonymity, which he contends people do not seem to really want, democratic values need to be protected, including free public movement and association.

“We have to find ways of obscuring some information [about citizens] to protect the values we’re trying to protect,” Turley concludes. “We’re still going to be in a fishbowl society, but we can obscure the fish.”

Privacy concerns about facial recognition are spreading around the world, and have resulted in technology bans in several U.S. cities.

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