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U.S. Congressional rep calls for biometrics regulation as universal online identification considered

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The U.S. Congressional representative for Silicon Valley is calling on the federal government to quickly work towards legislation to control government agency use of facial recognition and other biometrics, and consider enacting a moratorium until they reach that point, Nextgov reports.

Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) held a roundtable with reporters, during which he said federal agencies should stop using stop implementing biometric programs until ethical guidelines are agreed on.

“Where they are being used we should adopt clear ethical guidelines—making sure that there’s not discriminatory intent, making sure it’s not being used for profiling, making sure there’s not systemic bias in there. These guidelines are being developed in places like Stanford and AI Institute and other academic institutions. I think the government needs to look at what those guidelines are and adopt them,” he says.

In the event that systems in use show uneven results for different demographic groups, a moratorium should be placed on the technology, according to Khanna. He also acknowledged, however, that Congress may not yet “have sufficient expertise” to craft effective legislation. He recommends a task force be created to let “leading academics and industry experts and non-profit groups help advise us on what those standards should be.”

Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to pause its facial recognition program until government policy is formalized last week.

Khanna notes that the U.S. ended up trailing the EU on data privacy legislation, and says he does not want the country to also fall behind in rules for artificial intelligence.

The SIA warned Congress earlier this week against placing a moratorium on facial recognition, saying arguments for a ban are based on misconceptions about how the technology works and is used.

Representative Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) meanwhile has asked the Department of Justice and the FBI to examine the role of anonymity in disinformation and influence campaigns by foreign governments, particularly Russia in 2016, according to FCW. Neguse suggests that universal identity verification on social media platforms could help address the problem of disinformation.

“Clearly our law enforcement agencies are working very hard to combat this disinformation, but it strikes me that at least one of the root causes is the reality of anonymous accounts in these social media engines,” said Neguse.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Adam Hickey says that while online anonymity is a “broad cybersecurity challenge,” the government relies on social media platforms to set their standards for identification.

FBI Deputy Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Nikki Flores told the House Judiciary Committee hearing where Neguse made the request that the foreign influence task force of the bureau interacts with social media companies, but indicated the FBI does not want to moderate or police online behavior.

In a 2018 white paper on regulating social media, Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) said that requiring transparency in post or account origins could play a significant role in reducing the problem, but at the expense of user privacy. Stakeholders note that there are many reasons that people hide their identities only for, and that universal verification policies could harm vulnerable populations and curtail freedoms of privacy or expression.

It is also not clear whether universal verification would reliably determine the origin of foreign influence campaign behavior, as virtual private networks or IP masking could make it technically challenging to determine user identity or location, and lead to false positives.

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