OVERNIGHT TECH: Commerce Department facial recognition talks begin

THE LEDE: The Commerce Department’s examination of the privacy implications of facial recognition technology begins Thursday.

The process will bring together tech companies and privacy advocates to craft a set of privacy-enhancing best practices for the use of facial recognition technologies. The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration — tasked by the White House to convene stakeholders to tackle privacy issues — wrapped up a similar process last year aimed at increasing transparency around how mobile apps collect and use data from users.

In a blog post Wednesday, NTIA Administrator Larry Strickling touted the process, highlighting the widespread uses of facial recognition technologies.

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“Facial recognition technology is being embedded into everything from social networking services in the virtual world to building access systems in the physical one,” he wrote. 

“Online services are adopting facial recognition software to help consumers organize their personal photos. Video games are using face prints to customize the gaming experience. And bricks-and-mortar retailers are employing recognition-enabled cameras to identify customers and reduce fraud."

As the uses increase, stakeholders need to examine the potential risks, which “range from stalking (since a face print could be used to track an individual online and offline) to identity theft (since a face print is a unique biometric identifier),” he wrote.

Thursday’s meeting “will explore the technical capabilities of the technology, commercial applications and technical privacy safeguards,” he said. “We are expecting a lively, informative conversation and we hope you will join us.”

The meeting will take place in D.C. between 1 and 5 p.m. at the American Institute of Architects and can be watched online via the NTIA's website.

Commerce chairman wants FCC to plan long-term: Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) thinks the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should do more to help put broadband Internet in nearly every school and library in the country. After FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Wednesday announced the commission will take a “business-like” approach to cutting waste in the E-Rate program and double its budget over the next two years, Rockefeller said he wants it to think longer.

“While I welcome Chairman Wheeler’s announcement today of an important down payment for our students’ future, I strongly believe any update of E-Rate also must devote additional long-term support to the program,” he said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.

“Now is the time for the FCC to take advantage of this unique opportunity – to expand and update that program and provide it the necessary support to make sure that every child is connected to the transformative power of technology.”

The modernized E-Rate program, called ConnectED, aims to give high-speed Internet access to 99 percent of American students in the next five years. 

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who helped create the program along with Rockefeller while in the House, praised Wheeler’s commitment on Tuesday.

“E-Rate ensured all kids had access to the Internet, and now we must maintain our technological edge in education through faster connections to accommodate today’s Internet offerings,” he said in a statement.

Education Department sends ‘Dear Colleague’ letter: The Department of Education sent a letter to states outlining ways to hook schools up to high-speed Internet. States can use money for the ConnectED program to provide professional development training for teachers, buy devices and access educational content. The letter provides a number of examples for schools to use their various federal funding streams to put new technology in students’ hands.

“Coordination of Federal program support can help maximize the impact of available resources,” Richard Culatta, head of the department’s office of educational technology, wrote in the letter.

Senate GOP want FCC overhaul: Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) want the federal communications law to be rewritten in a way that limits Federal Communications Commission regulations. In an op-ed for The Hill on Wednesday, the lawmakers pressed for a new law to encourage innovation and treat communications equally.

Critics have derided the law underpinning the FCC for applying different rules to different types of communications, like phones or TV. Those “regulatory lanes,” as the lawmakers describe them, have posed a problem for new types of networks that companies may use for multiple services.

In the House, the Energy and Commerce Committee has already begun to consider how to overhaul the law, which was last updated in 1996. Some lawmakers in the Senate have indicated a willingness to follow suit.

Heller, Ayotte and Johnson wrote that any update should avoid a “regulate first” mentality.

“Instead of employing a knee-jerk regulatory prescription, the principle that should guide the debate over updating our communications laws is to empower consumers by promoting robust competition in the broad Internet sphere,” they wrote. “This approach would encourage new participants, not limit them.”

Yelp gets new lobbyist: Weeks after its first foray into lobbying, Yelp is stepping up its efforts. The urban review website hired Seth Bloom, a former general counsel on the Senate Antitrust subcommittee, to help represent its interests in Washington, according to a newly released lobbying disclosure report filed on Monday.

According to the lobbying registration form, Bloom, of the Bloom Strategic Counsel, will represent the company on “antitrust and competition issues affecting the Internet.”

In 2011, the California-based firm tried to get the Federal Trade Commission to assert that Google was violating antitrust laws by unfairly promoting its own searches over Yelp’s. The FTC backed down in that case, but European regulators won concessions from Google on Wednesday to treat other searches equally.

Yelp has made waves in Washington in recent weeks. It hired its first lobbyist, a former  staffer to  Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), late last year, and started a political action committee soon after.

 

ON TAP

The National Journal is hosting an event on the IP transition Thursday featuring FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler as well as executives from the Frontier, AT&T and Cox.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is worried about the privacy implications of a new facial recognition app.

Motorola Solutions has brought on a new lobbyist to lead its government affairs team.

As the new top Democrat on the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, Rep. Steve Cohen (Tenn.) is pledging to tackle government surveillance and civil rights.

Lawmakers and top regulators are calling for a new law to help protect consumers’ sensitive data following breaches in which millions of accounts were compromised.

The House Homeland Security Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a bill to secure the federal government and critical infrastructure elements from cyberattacks.

FCC Chairman Wheeler said on Wednesday the agency would take a “businesslike approach” to President Obama’s plan to bring broadband Internet to virtually all American students.

 

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