Privacy SOS

Rights groups including ACLU withdraw from talks with industry over face tracking standards, citing core disagreements

Nine public interest and civil liberties groups, among them the ACLU, have withdrawn from talks with industry associations over setting limits on face recognition technology in marketing and consumer tracking. The NYT reports:

In the last 16 months, the two sides had been meeting periodically under the auspices of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, a division of the Commerce Department. But the privacy advocates said they were giving up on talks because they could not achieve what they consider minimum rights for consumers — the idea that companies should seek and obtain permission before employing face recognition to identify individual people on the street.

“At a base minimum, people should be able to walk down a public street without fear that companies they’ve never heard of are tracking their every movement — and identifying them by name — using facial recognition technology,” the privacy and consumer groups said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain agreement even with that basic, specific premise.”

Texas and Illinois have laws on the books requiring companies to notify consumers and obtain their permission when they take face prints or share their biometric data. The practice is basically entirely unregulated elsewhere, with few to zero protections in federal law.

Companies aren't the only ones interested in tracking us via our faces. The FBI and local police departments across the nation are also investing in biometric tracking technologies. In recent years the FBI opened its $1b Next Generation Identification (NGI) biometrics database, which includes fingerprints, iris scans, face prints, gait and scent information, and data about tattoos and scars. While the government amasses more and more biometric data about tens of millions of people, some never accused of a crime, biometric recognition technology is making leaps and bounds. Researchers recently announced they can now read iris scans of drivers through their rear view mirrors from 10 meters away.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.