This Week In Tech: Standards eyed for facial recognition technology

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The Obama administration will take baby steps this week toward developing standards for the use of facial recognition technologies that could have uses for audiences as diverse as Facebook and the FBI.

The use of the technologies has huge implications for privacy, and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will meet Thursday to begin studying the issue.

There is no standard for the use of these technologies right now, and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is worried about “entities like the FBI and Facebook” that “have begun to build large facial recognition databases on their own terms.”

“My hope is that it will set out basic rules of the road that industry leaders can follow — and Congress can use as a roadmap for a 21st Century privacy law,” he said of the Commerce agency’s process in a statement to The Hill.

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The White House in 2012 directed the Commerce agency to bring together the tech industry and privacy advocates to tackle the issue.

Their aim is to establish voluntary guidelines for companies using the technologies.

One huge question for participants is the scope.

While some may want to address specific uses of facial recognition technology, Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said the code should address privacy implications across all uses of facial recognition technology.

“We’re happy to have specific measures that extend the general code, but a narrow code that only works for one or a few of facial recognition uses such as social networking, retail settings, digital signs, mobile apps, etc. would be disappointing,” he said.

Carl Szabo, policy counsel for NetChoice, said the code should focus on certain uses of facial recognition technology.

“The process should focus on sharing rather than any and all uses of facial recognition,” said Szabo, whose group represents Yahoo and Facebook. “With that limited focus, stakeholders can create guidelines appropriate for different contexts such as stores, banks, online, courtrooms, and airports.”

Lawmakers in both chambers are also gearing up for a series of events to look at data security and ways to prevent future data breaches. Three different committees will hold hearings this week to probe flaws in the current information security standards and whether a federal law needs to be issued.

In the wake of massive data breaches at retailers like Target, Neiman Marcus and Michaels, lawmakers have unveiled new legislation and reintroduced old bills that they say are necessary to protect consumers.

The Senate Banking subcommittee on National Security and International Trade and Finance is holding a hearing on Monday afternoon with officials from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Secret Service, banking sectors, retailers, consumer advocates and a cybersecurity expert.

Regulators, retailers and public interest advocates will also participate in a Congressional Privacy Caucus briefing earlier on Monday afternoon. The caucus, co-chaired by Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), will look at “the current framework and ideas for improving security” to prevent data breaches.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Judiciary Committee will explore “privacy in the digital age” with FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, top law enforcement officers and representatives from Target and Neiman Marcus, among others.

The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade on Wednesday will hear from Target and Neiman Marcus executives, along with others in the private sector, and officials from the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security.

The National Security Agency’s programs will also be a focal point on Capitol Hill this week, as the House Judiciary Committee hears testimony from Deputy Attorney General James Cole in a Tuesday hearing on reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan and other intelligence heads will testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.

On Wednesday afternoon, FTC Commissioner Julie Brill will take to Twitter for a chat on privacy, big data and the so-called “internet of things.”

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