The 16-month-long series of meetings NITA, tech-company trade associations and various consumer- and privacy-protection groups completely broke down last week
Nine privacy and consumer groups walked out of the talks held by National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NITA) because, they did not believe that the NTIA process is likely to yield a set of privacy rules that offers adequate protections for the use of facial-recognition technology, says ConsumerAffairs.com in a report.
According to ConsumerAffairs.com, a consumer news and advocacy organization founded in 1998 by James R Hood, the NITA, a division of the Commerce Department, has hosted talks with tech-company trade associations as well as various consumer- and privacy-protection groups in hope of developing a set of guidelines tech companies could follow to protect consumers' privacy when the companies use facial recognition technology. However, the efforts have gone badly with nine privacy and consumer groups walked out from the 16-month-long series of meetings.
A joint statement from American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Consumer Federation of America and a half-dozen other organisations says, “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. Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain agreement even with that basic, specific premise.”
Facial-recognition technology, a form of biometric data collection, has concerned privacy advocates for years. In summer 2011, for example, privacy groups raised an outcry
after Facebook started using facial-recognition technology to make it easier for users to “tag” (identify) people in photographs they posted. At that time, the FBI was already compiling (.pdf
) a nationwide facial recognition service, the Next Generation Identification
(or NGI) program, currently estimated to hold at least 51 million photographs in its database, with more added every day, the report says.
However, ConsumerAffairs.com, says, the NTIA’s meeting with trade groups and consumer-privacy organizations focused on the biometric data collection activities of private companies rather than government organizations. NTIA held its first meeting in February 2014 and has hosted 12 meetings to date. None of those meetings went particularly well (at least from a pro-consumer privacy perspective) but, as the Washington Post
reports, the final straw landed during last Thursday's meeting, it added.
During the meeting, Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of Georgetown University's Center on Privacy and Law, asked if companies could agree to making opt-in for facial recognition technology the default for when identifying people - meaning that if companies wanted to use someone's face to name them, the person would have to agree to it. No companies or trade associations would commit to that, according to multiple attendees at the meeting.
Then Justin Brookman, director of the Center for Democracy & Technology's consumer privacy project, asked if companies would agree to a concrete scenario: What if a company set up a camera on a public street and surreptitiously used it identify people by name? Could companies agree to opt-in consent there? Again, no companies would commit, according to several attendees, the report added.
Quoting the Center for Digital Democracy, the report from ConsumerAffairs.com said
that “the approach the Administration embraced to protect consumers’ rights to their personal information was flawed. It relied on the data collection and digital marketing industry to support significant new policies that would empower individuals to make decisions about how their information can be collected and used …. It never made sense to expect industry to turn away from business practices that reap billions of dollars.”