In a move to regulate the use of facial recognition technology by commercial institutions and to forward the cause to protect people’s privacy, two US senators have introduced a bill to prohibit companies from using facial recognition system data for identifying or tracking purposes without people’s consent.
The bipartisan move, known as the Commercial Facial Recognition Privacy Act of 2019, was introduced by US Senators Roy Blunt and Brian Schatz in a bid to protect people’s facial recognition data and make it much harder for the data to be sold, now that information is treated as currency.
“Our faces are our identities. They’re personal. So the responsibility is on companies to ask people for their permission before they track and analyze their face,” Senator Schatz, ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, said.
Facial recognition technology has long been used in surveillance and security for decades. However, the bill was drafted because these data are now ‘being developed at increasing rates for commercial applications.’ Blunt said that the bill is ‘an important step toward protecting privacy and empowering consumers.’
The two senators argued that the majority of the people are not aware that facial recognition data are being collected from them in public spaces and that companies can collect identifiable information to share and sell to third parties. This is done in the same manner as how carriers have been selling location data to bounty hunters for years – and has become very problematic.
“Consumers are increasingly concerned about how their data is being collected and used, including data collected through facial recognition technology,” said Senator Blunt. “That’s why we need guardrails to ensure that, as the technology continues to develop, it is implemented responsibly. This bill increases transparency and consumer choice by requiring individuals to give informed consent before commercial entities can collect and share data gathered through FR.”
“Our bill makes sure that people are given the information and – more importantly, the control over how their data is shared with companies using facial recognition technology,” Schatz added.
Furthermore, commercial organizations that will use facial recognition technology are not just prohibited from redistributing and disseminating the data collected from facial recognition technologies but are also legally required to notify and inform its customers whenever facial recognition is in use. More importantly, FR tech makers and providers need to meet the data security standards set by the Federal Trade Commission and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
The two senators through their proposed bill also want to address the reported underlying bias in FR technologies. In the first few months of the year, Z6 Mag has reported on how self-driving cars are more likely to run over a black person and that Amazon’s facial recognition technology is less likely to mismatch faces of women and black people. In response, Blunt and Schatz wanted all facial recognition technologies to undergo third-party testing prior to implementation to address accuracy and bias issues.
Microsoft, one of the earliest developers of facial recognition technologies support the bill proposed by Senators Blunt and Schatz. Company President Brad Smith said in a statement:
“Facial recognition technology creates many new benefits for society and should continue to be use developed. Its use, however, needs to be regulated to protect against acts of bias and discrimination, preserve consumer privacy, and uphold our basic democratic freedoms. Senators Blunt and Schatz’s bill has started an important conversation in Congress about the responsible use of this technology.”
“We’re encouraged by their efforts, applaud their leadership, and look forward to working with them to develop balanced policy,” he added.
The new bill is a new attempt by the US government to regulate technology and tech-based companies. Last week, a US Senator also promised to break apart huge tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Amazon. The stricter regulations proposed by the US government follows a series of privacy issues that surround different data collection and storage technologies. Last year, Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg faced a highly publicized legislative inquiry about the role of Facebook in data security. Recently, Huawei is also facing charges from the US government for suspected circumvention of US sanctions to Iran and Trump’s administration also launched a campaign to prevent other countries from using Huawei’s 5G system citing that it could be used by the company and the Chinese government for espionage and destabilization.