Facing Up to Face Recognition, Privacy

Washington — The Obama administration has taken another step toward coming up with best practices for the use of facial recognition technology, including for targeted marketing, but civil society groups remained skeptical of the idea and notable for their absence.

At a National Telecommunications & Information Administration workshop, various stakeholders worked on language on a draft proposal for new guidelines as it continues a multi-stakeholder process to come up with voluntary enforcement of its privacy “bill of rights.”

The document, which lays out Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPP), is billed only as a “flexible and evolving” roadmap, and privacy groups argue it is going down the wrong road.

The principles do not apply for aggregate or nonidentifying uses, like counting the number of people present — rather than identifying who they are — or approximating age or identifying gender for marketing research purposes, according to a copy of the draft. Nor do they apply to law enforcement or national security uses.

Last summer, consumer groups and privacy advocates who had participated in earlier workshops on other elements of the bill of rights pulled out of the process after they concluded it would not produce sufficiently strong privacy protections.

“The Commerce Department continues to show disregard for consumer privacy by ‘convening’ an industry-dominated group on facial recognition without participation of consumer and privacy civil society groups,” Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said of the latest workshop. “Lobbyists craft purposefully vague proposals without any real safeguards for biometric data.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.