IBIA says draft bill to block new U.S. federal use of facial recognition would do more harm than good

IBIA says draft bill to block new U.S. federal use of facial recognition would do more harm than good

The U.S. Congressional Oversight Committee should consider options for developing principles for the use of facial recognition and other biometrics aside from an open-ended moratorium, the International Biometrics + Identity Association (IBIA) says in comments on the Committee’s new Draft Bill.

The discussion draft “Accountability and Transparency for Federally Funded Facial Recognition Technology Act” would establish a moratorium on new uses of facial recognition by agencies pending a series of reports, rather than addressing specific problems, according to the IBIA’s invited input on the draft legislation.

The IBIA takes issue with the enumerated Findings in the Bill, stating that the rationale leaves out information critical to understanding the issue, and several technical points in particular. The missing information includes recent NIST findings that the top-performing algorithms have “undetectable differences among demographic groups,” the benefits of the technology, and the risks an open-ended moratorium could pose to public safety and national security. The organization also points out that the government already has processes in place to ensure transparency and accountability in facial recognition use, the vulnerability of alternative methods of identification such as passwords and social security numbers, and perhaps most importantly that “facial recognition is not synonymous with surveillance.

Each point is explained and supported in the six-page comment, signed by IBIA Executive Director Tovah LaDier.

The organization supports the Committee’s goals of transparency, accountability, and standards to apply to all biometrics use, but not the bill, which it says could have negative consequences for the public, businesses, and the government.

The Oversight Committee held a series of hearings beginning last year, leading to the proposed legislation. Those hearings have touched on a range of issues within the space, but have also been side-tracked by politics.

“IBIA supports oversight and continued expansion of NIST testing and other efforts to strengthen NIST’s role as the international gold standard for testing facial recognition and other biometric technologies. It is in society’s best interest to develop a principle-driven, use-case-specific governance framework that both (1) carefully tailors restrictions to address specific risks that facial recognition technologies may pose in specific settings and (2) continues to support current and future beneficial uses of facial recognition technologies,” LaDier writes in conclusion.

Ultimately, the IBIA warns that the proposal would do more harm than good, potentially costing the U.S. global leadership in a technology playing an important role in national security, costing U.S. companies business, and diminishing the global leadership role of NIST.

The Center for Data Innovation at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation has also come out against the bill, advocating instead for expedited development of transparency measures.

The ITIF specifically addresses ten points in the draft bill, pointing out omissions, reflected misperceptions, unintended consequences already run into by San Francisco’s limited ban, and ambiguities. The comment also points out that NIST does not evaluate cloud-based systems, so requiring a NIST-tested algorithm for federal agency use would run counter to the government’s “Cloud-First” IT strategy unless the agency’s testing mandate is expanded.

California bill paused

A proposed legal framework for facial recognition use by both the public and private sector in California has been put on hold until the passage of the final state budget in the middle of the month, The California Globe reports.

Assembly Bill 2261 was written by Assemblyman Ed Chau, a former IBM engineer, and would create agencies tasked with determining the accuracy of facial biometric systems, providing notice about their use, establish individual rights and limits for deployment.

A vote by the state Assembly Appropriations Committee was delayed at a recent hearing until the state budget is finalized, which is expected on June 15. The delay will give the Committee an opportunity to see if funds are available to enact the measure specified in the bill.

“Clearly, the incursion of facial recognition technology in our everyday lives is already present, but we have few tools to discover or limit its use. Why? Because there is no comprehensive facial recognition technology regulation in place,” Chau commented.

A civil rights attorney told the Globe that the legislation may be changed or dropped entirely.

Washington State recently passed legislation restricting facial recognition use, which has been criticized in some circles because it was written by a Microsoft employee.

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