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Congressional committee meets on business dangers of biometrics, but talks politics



For better or worse, the U.S. Congress is getting more involved in the use of facial recognition. The House Oversight and Reform Committee heard testimony yesterday about the need for safeguards for people who might prefer to go unrecognized by businesses.

The committee, led by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), has looked at the issues surrounding facial recognition three times, and if history is any guide, much time will pass before any legislation is even passed. Maloney committed merely to introducing “commonsense facial-recognition legislation” in the near future.”

The lukewarm enthusiasm came despite the fact that the matter has united Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill in expressing caution. In fact, near-term legislation is more likely to come from the states, as has happened with autonomous driving.

This example was not lost on Jake Parker, senior director of government relations at the Security Industry Association.

Testifying before the committee, Parker told legislators, “Regulation specific to commercial use of facial recognition technology only makes sense in the context of a national data-privacy policy that includes biometric information.”

The association will try to prompt industry-wide guidelines by “developing a set of use principles” for the technology, he said.

Regulation specific to commercial use of facial recognition technology only makes sense in the context of a national data privacy policy that includes biometric information – the subject of a broader ongoing debate. In the meantime, industry can play a more active role in providing users with the tools they need to implement robust policies for responsible use. SIA and our members are working to do just that by developing a set of use principles for facial recognition technology.”

As if to drive home the import of nationwide standards for facial-recognition technology, state lawmakers in Washington introduced a bill that aims to regulate commercial use of facial recognition. It would require an affirmative opt in by people before the technology could be used on them. And even then, vendors would have to meet as-yet unstated metrics for information accuracy and auditing.

And while civil libertarians might be loudly pushing for Congressional action to impose rules on when and how to use the technology, recent research indicates that most U.S. consumers are fans of it, at least in retail settings.

A January survey performed by Arlington Research and paid for by SOTI Inc., maker of mobile and IoT management products, revealed that 48.1 percent of consumers in the United States are “excited” about the prospect of retailers using facial recognition to customize their shopping experience. Only 27.8 percent said they were not excited.

For reference, U.S. consumers were decidedly happier with facial recognition-enhanced shopping than were their counterparts in the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden, according to the report.

The key to this apparent discrepancy might be found in VentureBeat coverage of the Jan. 15 Congressional hearing. (Videos of witness testimony and representatives’ statements can be viewed here.)

Although representatives were supposed to be addressing commercial transparency and accuracy related to facial recognition, the most noteworthy discussions focused again on the topic of the committee’s second hearing — politics.

Mark Meadows, a Republican representative from North Carolina, was quoted in the article saying conservatives and progressives agree that the technology cannot be allowed to abridge people’s right to be free of unlawful searches and seizures.

Fellow conservative Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio was more direct. In the article, Jordan was quoted saying that “…the idea of American citizens being tracked and cataloged for merely showing their faces [at a public political rally] is deeply troubling.”

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), zeroed in on the “flawed” coding that goes into facial-recognition technology.

“For somebody who gets pulled over by the police, in certain areas it’s not a big deal,” Gomez was quoted by VentureBeat. “In other areas, it could mean life or death if the people think you are a violent felon.”

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