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Face biometrics deployments increase as regulator and public push back


The regulatory heat around facial recognition continues to rise, even as implementations increase from airports to digital health credentials around the world.

The FTC has declared its intention to crack down on facial recognition surveillance systems, just as Rank One Computing has brought on an executive with extensive federal agency experience on board. A health passport with iProov face biometrics has reached the testing stage, while Blank Rome offers some guidance for businesses trying to sort out their obligations under Portland’s new regulations on facial recognition.

The two sides of the debate are demonstrated by a public initiative launched in the EU to have mass biometric surveillance banned, while in the U.S. law enforcement begins the unsettling task of rounding up participants in the violent Capitol Hill riot using facial recognition. One of the ecosystem’s thought leaders tells Biometric Update that popular opinion can be won over for facial recognition use even in some sensitive areas. The renewed focus on digital ID caused by the pandemic has carried on apace to start 2021, as well.

Biometrics this week in review

The global aviation industry continues to embrace facial recognition, with SITA and Gunnebo biometrics implemented at airports in Abu Dhabi and Brazil, respectively. Deloitte recommends different models of partnerships to move ahead with biometrics projects despite budget constraints, and Idemia sees the technology as a way to avoid increasing border staffing to deal with the new EU-EES rules. Governments also continue to work to support more biometrics use in airports.

The use of iris recognition by Privium Members at Schiphol Airport for expedited border clearance is explained in an article from Security Management Magazine. The story relates how the airport began used iris biometrics 20 years ago, and began switching to Iris ID solutions around the end of 2018, for a system that takes around 11 or 12 seconds and supports social distancing.

Aviation Security International published its final issue in December, 2020, after 24 years of leading industry coverage, Editor Philip Baum announced in a LinkedIn post. Baum shares a personal reflection on the history of the publication and the development of the industry over that time in a last feature article.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission launched a broadside against facial recognition surveillance as part of an announcement that it has ordered Paravision to delete algorithms trained on data collected without permission from the Ever photo storage app. The company has already stopped using the algorithms, and the FTC’s stated position against pre-emptive federal regulation and invocation of tech giants in its announcement make clear its intention to interpret existing regulations differently.

Rank One Computing has a new CEO, with FBI and Idemia NSS veteran Scott Swann appointed to replace the company’s co-founder, Dr. Brendan Klare, who remains with ROC. ImageWare also appointed a new CFO, and NEC’s Benji Hutchinson has been promoted from VP to President of Federal Business.

Live testing is starting in the UK for the health passport developed by iProov and Mvine. The digital health credential, secured with facial recognition, can be used for vaccination proofing and works within the existing NHS framework.

Advice for complying with the private sector facial recognition ban recently passed in Portland, Oregon is provided by attorney David J. Oberly, a member of Blank Rome, LLP’s Biometric Privacy, Privacy Class Action Defense, and Cybersecurity & Data Privacy groups in another widely-read guest post.

A Citizens Initiative has been launched to attempt to force the EU to ban biometric mass surveillance systems. With a million signatures collected from at least a quarter of EU states, the EC would propose legal acts in areas where it has jurisdiction.

Face biometrics are also being used to identify participants in the U.S. Capitol riot, and Clearview AI, no stranger to controversy itself, has seen a marked increase in search requests from law enforcement in the country.

Corsight has hired former UK Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter to steer it’s privacy and ethical practice efforts, and he tells Biometric Update in an interview that the tools to ensure ethical implementation of facial recognition and win the social debate over whether it can be safely used in security and law enforcement are already available. Now they must be properly deployed.

Hazards of law enforcement applications of big data, from potentially targeting protected groups to resistance from police officers, are laid out by Atkinson Fellow John Lorinc for the Toronto Star. Lorinc gives facial recognition and predictive as examples of this kind of application, and the argument draws heavily on the questionable legality of Clearview AI’s app in Canada. He also points to the Directive on Automated Decision-Making issued by Canada’s Treasury Board Secretariat in 2019 as a possible model for future U.S. regulation.

Uganda’s election was among the week’s top stories, with the country’s Electoral Commission bringing in 38,500 biometric voter verification devices ahead of Thursday’s poll in a bid to ensure its legitimacy. Most of the machines were leased, and their performance has been questioned amid a highly contentious election for which internet services were disrupted and international observers denied access.

Idemia NSS will support the expansion of biometrics capturing and identity proofing at 4,000 post offices around the U.S. this year, in a major contract win. The project is expected to help increase the availability of digital government services and accelerate background checks for a range of purposes, while increasing revenue for the beleaguered federal agency.

The need to prevent fraud in various digital pandemic response efforts could lead to a renewed drive for a national digital ID in the U.S., TransUnion Head of Global Fraud Solutions Shai Cohen writes in a guest post. The weaknesses in the U.S. digital ID system have been exposed, Cohen argues, and potential benefits in service access for some of society’s most vulnerable people are substantial.

The role of digital ID in the digital transformation of Britain’s financial services sector is explained by Harry Weber-Brown, digital innovation director at TISA (The Investing and Saving Alliance) in a guest post. Weber-Brown argues that better data portability and improved KYC efficiency based on digital ID could help keep the sector competitive, while connecting the UK to the rest of the world.

Expect a number of acquisitions by incumbents in the identity space in 2021, if One World Identity’s (OWI’s) predictions are to come true. The group is also forecasting more identity confirmation for online content, widespread digital identity wallet adoption driven by pandemic recovery efforts, a “Biden bump” for digital ID initiatives and of course, the end of the password.

The financial reports and updates from publicly-traded biometrics companies to start the year are mostly positive, with EyeLock revenues up, Zwipe’s two largest shareholders joining its nomination committee, and Nxt-ID stock regaining Nasdaq compliance with a leap in share price of more than 200 percent over a few days in mid-December, and continued gains into the new year. RealNetworks has completed its sale of Napster, Patriot One and BIO-key see growth ahead, while Mitek and Idex Biometrics gave investor presentations.

DHS’ Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) will launch a ‘Insights Outreach Webinar Series’ on February 2, at 2pm ET, with a pair of Homeland Security officials discussing the various opportunities and innovation funding programs S&T provides. The webinar series is part of DHS S&T’s effort to include innovative companies, including startups and small businesses, in its ecosystem and spotlight Office of Industry Partnerships programs.

The DHS final rule proposal to expand its collection of biometrics from immigration applicants has been approved by the White House regulatory review office, as Bloomberg Law reports. The move is expected to increase the number of biometric records collected by 50 percent, expand the biometric modalities collected, but is still not finalized, and with the administration in its final days, the ultimate fate of the new rule is still unknown.

Please let us know of any articles, podcasts or other content we should share with the biometrics industry and broader digital ID community in the comments below or through social media.

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