Government Plans Facial Recognition Code for 2014

NTIA plans open meetings on facial recognition in February.

A facial recognition program is demonstrated during the Biometrics 2004 exhibition and conference on Oct. 14, 2004, in London.
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Facial recognition and other biometrics technology are predicted to expand in 2014, so the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is planning to coordinate with groups and companies to draft privacy guidelines for the growth of those facial recognition products in February.

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The meetings will be open to attendees including industry groups, privacy advocates and technical experts to develop a privacy code of conduct for facial recognition technology, says Juliana Gruenwald, spokeswoman for the NTIA. The agency organized open meetings in 2012 to develop guidelines on mobile applications as part of President Barack Obama's call for a privacy bill of rights for consumers.

"The stakeholders will determine how long it will take and the substance of the code itself, though NTIA has suggested that stakeholders aim to 'freeze' a draft code of conduct by June 24 in order to facilitate external review," Gruenwald says.

Facebook uses facial recognition software in its photo database, as does Google for its Picasa photo design website. Consumer products using biometrics are expected to become more popular in 2014. Fingerprint scanning technology will likely become mainstream in 2014 because of consumer demand for the biometric password feature used on Apple's iPhone 5S.

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Retailers also want the chance to develop facial recognition technology, says Mallory Duncan, general counsel for the National Retail Federation, one of the trade groups participating in the NTIA meetings. Facial detection tools could tailor an advertisement on a digital billboard to a customer, depending whether the consumer facing a kiosk is a man or woman, and depending on age range, but this is still largely an exhibit used at trade shows and none of NRF member companies have plans to use that technology, Duncan explains. Facial recognition software because is more specific and advanced than facial detection, and could be developed for security uses including store surveillance cameras to track shoplifters with an arrest record.

"During the NTIA meetings we will try to point out that there are a number of potential uses for this technology," Duncan says. "We are always concerned when people try to regulate a technology before it has the chance to get off the ground."

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The expansion of facial recognition in public spaces and as part of consumer products creates a need for binding laws, rather than the voluntary guidelines that the NTIA process would likely develop, says Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

"An industry self-regulatory model is just not going to work to protect consumers," Calabrese says. "Facial recognition raises questions like 'is that data being shared with the government?' Will there be controls in place that would allow my face print to be deleted from a business' database?"

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