Facial recognition proposal lacks privacy protections, advocate says

A trade group's recommendations for best privacy practices run counter to US values, an ACLU lawyer says

By , IDG News Service |  Government

A facial recognition trade group's proposals for privacy standards are an "extreme" departure from U.S. expectations on how personal data should be handled, a privacy advocate said Tuesday.

A set of recommendations from the International Biometrics and Identification Association suggest that the industry believes it should have few limits, said Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The IBIA document "refutes fundamental American values in a way that would actually be harmful to our Democracy," Calabrese said.

Calabrese, speaking during a meeting on facial recognition privacy standards hosted by the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration, disagreed with parts of the IBIA document. "Anonymity and privacy are not synonymous terms," the IBIA said in its recommendations. "The former is forfeited if one chooses to live in society."

Anonymity is a fundamental value in U.S. society, Calabrese said. "Those are very, very strong words," he told IBIA representatives. "Taken to its conclusion, what you're saying is, 'I have the right to identify you all the time.'"

Calabrese overstated IBIA's position, said Walter Hamilton, vice chairman of the trade group. Members of society often have to forfeit their anonymity to get benefits, such as a driver's license or a bank account, but should still expect a level of privacy, he said.

"There's very little anonymity in society if we're going to be productive members," Hamilton said. "You are constantly going to be required to identify yourself or have your identify verified in order to receive services."

People have "no anonymity" when they choose to live in society, the group's paper said. "Unless we disguise ourselves, our faces are public," the IBIA's recommendations said.

However, collecting a facial image does not "destroy the anonymity of a person walking down the street," the paper added. "This does not directly reveal a name, Social Security number, or any other personal information."

The IBIA recommendations for best practices, submitted as part of the NTIA's efforts to craft voluntary privacy standards for facial recognition, also suggested that it's not feasible to develop detailed privacy recommendations "given the variety and numerous existing uses" of facial recognition technology.

People who enter a building that uses facial recognition technology should be considered to have given permission to be scanned, the trade group said. Getting permission by any other means would be "impractical," the group said in its recommendations.

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