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U.S. lawmakers hold third facial recognition hearing as more government bans and privacy bills introduced

U.S. lawmakers hold third facial recognition hearing as more government bans and privacy bills introduced

On January 15 the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform is holding its third hearing focused on biometric facial recognition technology. This hearing will look at on the sale and use of commercial facial recognition by private industry, civilians and government entities. The goal of the hearing is to analyze how the technology is used, as well as transparency, privacy, accuracy, ownership and security risks and how they can be avoided through legislation.

The first hearing was held on May 22, 2019 and focused on how facial recognition can affect people’s civil rights and liberties, while the second hearing was held on June 4, 2019 and focused on the use of facial recognition by law enforcement and the need for regulation when deployed on civilians.

Mentioned in the announcement is the new NIST research on demographic differentials of biometric facial recognition accuracy, or ‘bias,’ that found that despite significant improvement over previous research, there is still a difference in the accuracy of some algorithms in matching women and people with darker skin.

Cambridge bans government use of facial recognition

Government use of facial recognition is no longer allowed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, following a city council meeting this week, joining three other municipalities in the state – Northampton, Brookline, and Somerville, writes WGBH.

While facial recognition advocates believe it could be used for security, critics say it has racial bias and a high error rate and it is not yet ready to be used by state and city police.

“I have tremendous faith in our police commissioner and our police department,” said City Councilor Marc McGovern. “But we have seen how facial recognition has been misused by governments around not just in the United States, but around the world.”

McGovern discussed the use of facial recognition in Hong Kong to monitor protesters, or for arrests in Baltimore, as well as its use by ICE and the FBI in Florida.

“We know that this technology can and is sometimes used inappropriately,” McGovern said. “This ban really is a protection for the people of Cambridge, whether they’re from outside of Cambridge coming here for a protest or an event or other people who live here to make sure that the technology isn’t being used in our city in an inappropriate way.”

At the moment, legislation to ban facial surveillance in Massachusetts and other remote biometric surveillance systems is waiting to be analyzed by the Joint Judiciary Committee.

Washington state drafts consumer privacy, facial recognition bills

Washington state has introduced legislation to regulate consumer privacy and facial recognition use, which would go into effect July 31, 2021, writes Geekwire.

Sponsored by Sen. Reuven Carlyle, the Washington Privacy Act is very similar to GDPR in the European Union and CCPA in California, as it aims to give consumers control over their data and enhance visibility into how the data is used by companies. Consumers would be able to access and make changes to data, even delete it or opt-out.

“It has never been more important for state governments to take bold and meaningful action in the arena of consumer data privacy,” Carlyle said. “That’s what this legislation does.”

The Washington Privacy Act addresses businesses located in Washington that operate with the personal data of at least 100,000 Washington consumers. The law also addresses companies that make more than 50 percent of their revenue from selling or processing the personal data of more than 25,000 consumers, but it does not affect the government, municipal corporations or health data.

“We’ve really tried to be thoughtful and respectful of the needs for business and industry to operationalize this program, so that it’s not implementing a new layer of burden on top of them but it is also recognizing that those consumer rights are foundational,” Carlyle added.

Based on a previous bill that was dismissed, current sponsors say it was a lesson learned and they are leveraging that experience to prevent the same thing happening to the two new drafted bills. The Washington state bill also addresses facial recognition regulation such as mandatory third-party testing for accuracy and bias.

Sponsored by Sen. Joe Nguyen, the second bill is focused on the public use of facial recognition and is meant to “protect communities who often times have been disproportional impacted by a whole host of things, whether it’s technology or otherwise.”

Consumer privacy bills are being considered in Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire and Virginia.

Lawmakers introduce bill to protect children’s online privacy, biometric information

In other news, Reps. Tim Walberg and Bobby Rush have introduced the Preventing Real Online Threats Endangering Children Today (PROTECT) Kids Act, an update to the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) yet a separate effort, which aims to protect children’s online privacy, reports The Hill.

“Children today are more connected online and face dangers that we could not have imagined years ago,” Walberg said in a statement. “While advancements in technology allows for many benefits, it also poses a risk for our kids.”

The decision to update COPPA came after a FTC review.

Under the new legislation, parents are allowed to delete their children’s personal information collected by websites. The law now protects all personal information including location and biometric details such as faces, fingerprints and DNA, and raises the age of children it protects from 13 to 16.

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