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Governments urged to consider biometrics regulation, laws and oversight as some investigate


The use of facial recognition, along with other technologies related to weapons and security, are being investigated by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, according to a letter obtained by OneZero under a public records request.

The technologies used by the U.S. Department of Defense, Army, Navy, and Air Force, their accuracy and partnerships involved are all included in the inquiry. The letter acknowledges that the technology has promising operational benefits.

“However, overreliance on this emerging technology could also have disastrous consequences if faulty or inaccurate facial scans result in the inadvertent targeting of civilians or the compromise of mission requirements,” it says, pointing out accuracy differences in matching people from different demographics.

House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings and National Security Subcommittee Chairman Stephen F. Lynch signed the letter.

The oversight committee held a pair of hearings this year on the topic of facial recognition, one with advocacy groups and one with government agencies. The letter to the military was sent about two weeks later.

WEF and Brennan Center panelists urge government action

World Economic Forum Head of Artificial Intelligence Kay Firth-Butterfield says that governments must consider the privacy of individuals as they deploy facial recognition to boost security, CNBC reports. The WEF is advising governments in a new report to act to ensure facial recognition systems are used fairly and transparently. The problem has two components, one relating to public sector use and the other to private sector use, according to Firth-Butterfield.

Speaking at the India Economic Summit, she suggested that the build-up of data on individuals presents a risk, while the potential for facial recognition to erode civil liberties presents a greater risk. Firth-Butterfield also suggested a significant difference between the use of the technology in airports and to “follow us from our house to a street demonstration.”

India is currently in the process of collecting bids to be provider to a national facial recognition program.

The report notes that facial recognition does not require subject cooperation, and points out the evidence of bias in some systems.

“Facial recognition technologies are here to stay, and they will get used,” PwC India Advisory Leader Deepankar Sanwalka told CNBC at the event.

Human Rights Center Research Fellow Krisztina Huszti-Orban tells Law360 that there is “very little focus on the full impact of biometric data on human rights,” even beyond privacy and data protection.

Huszti-Orban advises the UN on the issue, and spoke on a recent panel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. Other panel participants included representatives from Privacy International, the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, and the UN Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (UNCTED).

The fallibility of algorithms, underrepresented populations, the lack of algorithmic transparency and data sharing or merging were noted as major issues. The panelists all agreed that more legal and regulatory protections around facial recognition technology are needed.

UNCTED and the Biometrics Institute have worked together on guidance for the responsible use of biometrics in counter-terrorism.

“It’s actually not that easy to determine what is effective, appropriate, independent oversight of this information,” says Anne-Maria Seesmaa of UNCTED.

Seesmaa clashed with Privacy International Head of Advocacy and Policy Tomaso Falchetta over the risk he says the UN databases create for potential misuse.

Scotland launches inquiry

Scottish Parliament’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing will conduct an inquiry into law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology, Scottish Legal News reports.

While Police Scotland uses “retrospective” facial recognition technology (as opposed to live FRT), possible use by the British Transport Police or the National Crime Agency is not known, according to the report.

“Facial recognition could be a useful tool for police in fighting crime and keeping communities safe,” comments sub-committee convener John Finnie MSP. “However, it should not be forgotten that this technology is invasive to citizens’ privacy. The human rights and legal implications of using facial recognition need to be understood. The sub-committee wants to be reassured that police services are striking the right balance when using this technology. We have a number of concerns we look forward to exploring further in the months ahead.”

Beijing deploying biometric internet access control

Using the internet in Beijing through a phone or computer will require a facial recognition check, as of December 1, 2019, according to The Epoch Times.

New rules from the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) also ban the private transfer of cell phones and landlines between individuals. Telecom carriers will be expected to determine the validity of the ID held by the person requesting the internet connection, verify that the ID matches the person, alter their terms and conditions to prevent SIM swaps or reselling, and help find people using numbers that don’t belong to them.

The Epoch Times reports that hundreds of people have been arrested in recent years for posting on the internet about topics the government is sensitive about.

The recent decision to ban face masks by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam is a move to make facial recognition more effective for identifying protesters, who have been painting over and smashing surveillance cameras, Fortune reports. Face paint has also been banned.

“Obviously this is out of her control. She is executing some order from Beijing,” Hong Kong Legislative Council member Claudia Mo told Fortune.

Lam denied that she is acting on orders from the Chinese government.

“Almost all protesters who have carried out violence have covered their face,” Lam said at a press conference Friday. “Their purpose was to hide their identity and evade the law.”

University of London SOAS China Institute Director Steve Tsang says the ban will only make protesters more angry.

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