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So this has been making the press:

U.S. policymakers are taking a closer look at facial recognition, thrusting privacy concerns over the controversial technology back into the spotlight.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a division of the Commerce Department, said Tuesday it planned to study the technology and its use in the private sector.

The announcement comes after Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., again pressed the agency on the privacy implications of facial recognition technology following last month's change to Facebook's privacy policy that allows the giant social network to use facial recognition on users' profile photos. He first called on the NTIA to investigate the issue in April 2012.

“Facial recognition technology can allow a stranger to identify you, by name and in secret, from a photograph taken on the street or copied from the Internet.  It has serious implications for consumer privacy and personal safety,” Franken wrote in a letter to the NTIA last month. “Unfortunately, our privacy laws provide no express protections for facial recognition data; under current law, any company can use facial recognition technology on anyone without getting their permission – and without any meaningful transparency.”

The NTIA says it will hold its first meeting in February to bring together representatives from the public and private sectors. The study is part of a privacy initiative from the Obama administration to put in place a consumer privacy bill of rights. - Los Angeles Times, 12/3/13

Franken been on top of this for a while now:

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked the Commerce Department to bring together tech companies and privacy advocates to discuss facial recognition technology.

The tech community should develop best practices to protect users from facial recognition technology, he said in a letter to the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Thursday.

In February 2012, the White House announced its “Privacy Bill of Rights” and directed the Commerce agency to convene a series of stakeholder discussions to address digital privacy issues.

After a year and a half of meetings, a group of tech companies, trade associations and privacy advocates concluded the first set of discussions aimed at creating a shorter way for apps to disclose how they collect and share user data.
Participants in that first set of discussions have said the Commerce agency has expressed interest in examining facial recognition technology next.

In his letter on Thursday, Franken asked that the agency take up the issue of facial recognition “as quickly as possible.”

He pointed to a recent update in Facebook’s data use policy as evidence that the topic of facial recognition needs to be examined.

“The urgency of this matter is underlined by Facebook’s recent expansion of its facial recognition database – already likely the largest in private hands,” he wrote. - The Hill, 11/21/13

Here's the full text of Franken's letter:

November 21, 2013
The Honorable Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information
National Telecommunications and Information Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Room 4725
Washington, D.C. 20230

Re: Multistakeholder Process to Develop Consumer Data Privacy Codes of Conduct

Dear Assistant Secretary Strickling:

In my April 2, 2012 submission to the NTIA, I recommended that the multistakeholder process consider the privacy implications of facial recognition technology, and seek to develop best practices on its use. As I explained in my filing, facial recognition technology can allow a stranger to identify you, by name and in secret, from a photograph taken on the street or copied from the Internet. It has serious implications for consumer privacy and personal safety. Unfortunately, our privacy laws provide no express protections for facial recognition data; under current law, any company can use facial recognition technology on anyone without getting their permission – and without any meaningful transparency. Press reports from this summer suggested that facial recognition was the likely next item for debate. I’m writing to renew my request that the NTIA take up this subject, and urge you to do so as quickly as possible.

The urgency of this matter is underlined by Facebook’s recent expansion of its facial recognition database – already likely the largest in private hands. In 2010, Facebook enrolled its then-800 million users into its facial recognition program – without their express consent. In my filing, I made a conservative estimate that this database includes one-twentieth of the world’s population. Last year, in a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, which I chair, I pressed Facebook to assure its users that it would never share or sell this database to third parties. A Facebook representative responded: “It’s difficult to know in the future what Facebook will look like five or ten years down the road, and so it’s difficult to respond to that hypothetical.”

Last week, Facebook finalized a new privacy policy that will expand its facial recognition program to include some of the site’s least active users – those who only had a profile photo and weren’t tagged in any other photos. Once again, Facebook refused to assure users that it would use facial recognition technology only to facilitate photo tagging. In an interview with Reuters, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, Erin Egan, stated: “Can I say that we will never use facial recognition technology for any other purposes? Absolutely not.” See “Facebook considers adding profile photos to facial recognition,” Reuters, August 29, 2013.

In September, I asked Facebook: How many faceprints do you have? Facebook declined to say, indicating that “we consider the exact number of templates that we store to be commercially sensitive and proprietary information.” Facebook’s reply, along with my original letter, is enclosed.

I will be exploring legislation to protect the privacy of biometric information, particularly facial recognition technology. But I believe it would be extremely valuable for the NTIA to convene industry stakeholders and privacy advocates to establish consensus-driven best practices for the use of this technology – which won’t be waiting for us before it reaches pervasive deployment.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.


Al Franken
Chairman, Subcommittee on Privacy,
Technology, and the Law

CC: Chairwoman Edith Ramirez
Commissioner Julie Brill
Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen
Commissioner Joshua Wright
Federal Trade Commission

And here's the case that caught Franken's attention:

But what if law enforcement was allowed to use a large database of pictures from multiple angles -- like the ones created when we "tag" Facebook photos? They could build what Kumar called "models," exponentially improving the accuracy of existing facial recognition.

That's what was apparently behind the thinking in the state of Ohio, which recently grabbed all the photos from driver's licenses issued in the state and uploaded them into their facial recognition system. It was only after the system went live -- and after police used it 2,600 times -- that the Ohio Attorney General thought it might be a good idea to establish an advisory panel to help safeguard people's privacy.

The Ohio database threw new light on Sen. Al Franken's (D-Minn.) concerns expressed during a hearing last year into the privacy concerns associated with facial recognition software. FBI deputy assistant director Jerome Pender testified that the FBI's database -- which didn't include pictures from sites like Facebook -- contained 12.8 million photographs, and Maneesha Mithal, the Associate Director of the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection at the Federal Trade Commission, promised the agency was "studying" the privacy concerns of facial recognition technologies for companies like Facebook, whose users add 2.5 billion photos a month to the service.

Facebook responded, saying that their encryption wouldn't allow third parties to access their photos database -- though, in 2013, their new "graph search" might do just that. - ABC News, 11/3/13

If you would like more information, please contact Senator Franken's office:

(202) 224-5641

Originally posted to pdc on Tue Dec 03, 2013 at 08:00 PM PST.

Also republished by The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Hey, good for Sen. Franken (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Maybe he hasn't entered a permanent vegetative state.

    Here's hoping a majority of the Senate wakes up and decides to start protecting civil liberties from corporate and government actors.

    Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL.

    by benamery21 on Tue Dec 03, 2013 at 08:21:33 PM PST

  •  That Al...such a comedian... (5+ / 0-)

    not!  If there is a more issues driven senator please point him/her out.  He has been raising privacy rights for the past 5 years.  Lets work to keep this guy in the senate in 2014!

    Einstein’s Theory of Relative Stupidity: Anyone who attempts to make George Bush look like a frigging genius, will end up looking like George Bush.

    by quiet in NC on Tue Dec 03, 2013 at 08:25:20 PM PST

  •  Even if it was for phototagging, it's still wrong. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DSPS owl

    I don't know why those in the private sector want to control our daily activities and our private lives so much. I realize that it is for marketing purposes, now, but in ten years they could use this to regulate behavior, travel, relationships and find out who has health problems and who does not.

    A private sector tyranny is still a tyranny.

  •  Some people want a level of privacy (0+ / 0-)

    That can only realistically be attained by segregating oneself and eschewing technology, sort of like the Amish.  Part of the solution will be adjusting the expectation of privacy.

    •  So I take it you believe that if something can be (0+ / 0-)

      done fairly easily technologically it should not be restricted legally or otherwise, right?  Would you still feel that way if I told you laser microphones can be built for under $100 and it is trivial to turn a Verizon Network Extender into a bugging device capable of recording all cell phone conversations within range (hint: custom firmware)?  So why complain about me listening in on what you are doing in your home (or your cell phone conversation), just adjust your expectation of privacy?

      You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

      by Throw The Bums Out on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 01:45:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Privacy, like other rights, depends on mutuality. (0+ / 0-)

      A right does not exist unless someone else respects it. It is possible to be entirely private in a crowd, if everyone just minds his/her own business. That's what courtesy and rudeness are about. A courteous person does not intrude upon another's private space absent an invitation to do so.

      So, privacy would seem to depend on a sense of time. Rude people touch (or inspect) on impulse, without seeking permission first -- i.e. they don't get the proper sequence.
      Think of Dubya "giving" the Chancellor of Germany a backrub. He was trying to be friendly. We forgive and accept, as we would a cat rubbing itself on an ankle or foot.

      Facebook is concerning because we realize that a host or people do not get the meaning of "look, but don't touch." People whose behavior is prompted by superficial optics, don't take a second look (re-spect) and consider whether a touch (contact) would be appropriate or welcome.

      Mutuality may well be a foreign concept to the self-centered. It does not occur to them to consider what someone else might want. Which is why the "golden rule" is inappropriate in some situations. Telling the lusty bloke to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," is a bad idea.

      Obamacare at your fingertips: 1-800-318-2596; TTY: 1-855-889-4325

      by hannah on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 05:25:09 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Don't use Facebook and remember that the (0+ / 0-)

    internets are a public venue. Don't show anything you wouldn't show on Times Square.

    That said, why the electronics industry is so intent on being suckled at the public teat is a puzzlement. Why is an ephemeral variable industry hung up on guaranteed income and monopoly?
    Is it because people are easily bored and profits are always in jeopardy?

    Does facial recognition technology assist the face-blind in recognizing themselves? Or does it illuminate a problem people didn't know they have? like being color blind?

    Obamacare at your fingertips: 1-800-318-2596; TTY: 1-855-889-4325

    by hannah on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 05:09:23 AM PST

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