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 Grant Gross | Published: 20:28, 24 June 2014
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.
The IBIA also believes that transparency about the use of facial recognition and the protection of data are "fundamental privacy tenants," the paper said. All collected data should be protected, it said.
The trade group, however, lacks authority to impose rules of conduct on companies and can only recommend best practices, it said. The recommendations are just a first draft submitted for discussion at the NTIA meetings, Hamilton said.
The IBIA proposal has raised concerns from privacy advocates that "the industry is pushing a policy that will ensure there's no real privacy for facial recognition," said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.
During the past two years, the NTIA has convened a series of meetings with a broad range of industry representatives, privacy advocates and other interested groups, in an effort to get participants to agree on voluntary privacy standards. The NTIA's first topic, dealing with mobile privacy issues, ended with some privacy advocates saying it was too dominated by industry representatives.
The IBIA proposal "is just the latest example of where the NTIA process is being run by industry lobbyists who really don't want to see consumer privacy is protected," Chester said by email.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.