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Hodgepodge campaigns in US nipping at big biometric privacy questions

biometric identification facial recognition

A number of federal and state officials are separately talking about biometric privacy. Rather than raising expectations for coherent guidance and protection, the flurry illustrates the opposite.

Still missing at all levels of governing is a principle for the use and trading of biometrics and other personal data — or even meaningful discussion of what such a principle would look like.

And the only related proposals with any heat are politically motivated. The rest are piecemeal efforts that are narrow in scope.

Acting chair of the Federal Trade Commission Rebecca Kelly Slaughter is telling industry groups that she supports a comprehensive approach to data privacy legislation, but is currently focused on making existing regulation more effective.

Slaughter cited a settlement last month between the commission and Paravision, which pivoted to biometrics after rebranding from photo app Everalbum Inc. The government charged that the company broke its promise to consumers about how and when it would use facial recognition. Paravision agreed to delete face-scanning models and algorithms based on user photographs and videos, having already deprecated them.

It is interesting that she describes the FTC’s role in battling COVID-19 as doing its part in the larger government’s strategy. Commissioners will have their hands full making sure voluminous new data streams loosed by the pandemic are handled appropriately, but it would be encouraging to hear the FTC was an integral part of a federal government privacy regime.

Publisher JD Supra has summarized a speech Slaughter recently gave outlining her privacy agenda.

Face biometrics legislation considered

State efforts generally are even less focused except where partisan politics is involved.

In Florida, two of the state’s three most powerful politicians, both Republicans, are pushing an anti-big tech agenda.

On the plus side of new legislation in the house of representatives, backers want to give consumers more ways to protect their personal information from commercial exploitation. It also would expand data protections for biometrics including finger and voice prints and eye scans.

However, Gov. Ron DeSantis and house speaker Chris Sprowls also want to do to social media and technology companies what they and others are doing to makers of digital voting machines. That is, turn them into scapegoats for dissatisfying electoral trends.

New York, meanwhile, is deliberating legislation that would prohibit law enforcement agencies from using biometric surveillance and increase industry oversight through a proposed task force that would regulate biometric surveillance.

That is the kind of law — a ban — that the Security Industry Association (SIA) is spending copious money and time lobbying against.

It has published a list of anti-regulation campaigns it is waging.

In New Jersey, officials want to pause facial recognition work by government employees and adopt some provisions in Illinois’ Biometric Information Protection Act that the association warns will allow frivolous lawsuits.

Hawaii legislators are considering ending most uses of facial recognition by public agencies. Maryland’s lawmakers are trying to establish a private right of action, something SIA rejects.

And the Minneapolis city council has moved to restrict local agencies from facial recognition except for uses that allow access control and promote employee security in workplaces.

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