OVERNIGHT TECH: Facial recognition talks resume

THE LEDE: On Tuesday, the Commerce Department will host a second meeting of tech companies and privacy advocates examining the implications of facial recognition technology. Ultimately, the group, convened by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, will craft a privacy-enhancing code of conduct for commercial uses of facial recognition technology.

Tuesday’s meeting will include a presentation from Marc Vaillant, vice president and chief strategy officer at biometric firm Animetrics. According to Animetrics CEO Paul Schuepp, Vaillant’s presentation will focus on the facts of the current capabilities and uses of facial recognition technology.

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“The reason we’re giving this presentation ... is so people better understand [the technology] and maybe not be so afraid,” Schuepp said, adding that any policy work in this area should be based on the technical facts.

“Let’s not jump the gun about making policies to control face recognition until we really understand the problem,” he said. “Let’s not go attack face recognition. Let’s look closely at the application [of the technology] and how privacy is being protected or not.”

Schuepp said that Vaillant will outline the current limitations of facial recognition — the necessary quality and uniformity of the image being captured and the imagines being compared — as well as the current uses of facial recognition technology that don’t identify specific individuals.

Facial recognition technology can be used to identify whether there is someone standing in front of a camera as well as identifying characteristics about that person such as age or gender without identifying who that person is, he said.

“These are technologies that exist, but that’s not facial recognition.”

According to the Commerce Department agency, the group will also discuss what kinds of uses of this technology should be covered by the code. On the list of possible uses to include are a mobile app that allows users to identify others nearby based on their face, a mobile device that can be unlocked with the owner’s faceprint and companies that scour pictures from public places to employment or marketing purposes.

White House launches 'big data' workshops: The White House will hold its first public workshop on “big data” at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) next week. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and White House counselor John Podesta, who has been leading the Obama administration’s review on the subject, will deliver keynote addresses.

The event, scheduled for March 3, will bring together academics, government officials and executives to “concentrate on core technical challenges associated with big data applications and provide a theoretical grounding for privacy considerations in large-scale information systems,” according to MIT. The White House is promising at least two additional future events in New York and Berkeley, Calif., but details have yet to be announced.

The effort is part of the administration's focus on the benefits and perils of data analytics, which President Obama called for in an effort to reform government surveillance. In addition to the public events, the White House has also met with top privacy and civil liberties advocates

Tech, telecom world mourns Dingell’s retirement: Rep. John Dingell Jr.’s (D-Mich.) announcement that he would leave Congress at the end of the year, after having served since 1955, triggered a wave of sympathy from the tech and communications world.

National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith called Dingell "a force of nature on Capitol Hill for more than a half a century, and his legislative accomplishments will stand the test of time.”

“Upon his retirement, broadcasters will be losing a great friend, but Congress and the American people will be losing a patriot and living legend,” he added.

Dingell, twice a former chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, was the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history, and worked personally on some of the nation’s bedrock technology laws, including the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

The head of the American Cable Association, Matthew Polka, said that Dingell “made as much history as he witnessed,” and noted that the lawmaker’s tenure was “bracketed by Sputnik and Spotify.”

“The term ‘legendary’ will always be associated with the name ‘John Dingell,’ ” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the current chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“For more than half a century, John Dingell has compiled an incredible legislative record that is unmatched in its breadth and depth,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) Dingell’s former colleague on the House committee, said in a statement. “From his successful lifelong crusade to expand health care coverage, to his protection of consumers, to his sweeping reforms of energy, environment and telecommunications policy, he has improved the lives of Americans everywhere.”

On Twitter, Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel praised Dingell’s “extraordinary record of public service.”

High court won’t hear 'musty smells' cases: The Supreme Court has decided not to hear two cases involving Sears and the appliance manufacturer Whirlpool, which tried to block people from entering into class-action lawsuits about washing machines with “musty smells” if they had never experienced the smells themselves. Tech company organizations had sided with the businesses and worried that a ruling against them could make their work harder. In a “friend of the court” brief, TechAmerica and TechNet argued that a ruling in favor of the class-action suit could “chill the innovation that fuels the technology sector’s growth and continued success.”

The high court’s decision not to take up the case will allow an appeals court ruling against the corporations to stand, and let the class-action suit involving millions go forward.

Senate sets Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger hearing: The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the proposed Comcast and Time Warner Cable merger on March 26, Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced on Monday. Leahy said in a statement that the deal “touches on important policy questions about how Americans access these valuable services. It also presents a critical moment to discuss net neutrality principles that have allowed the Internet to remain an open marketplace for ideas.”

Aereo sets Austin launch date: Aereo will launch its service in Austin, Texas, on March 3, the company announced Monday. The greater Austin area will be the company’s fourth market in Texas.

Aereo — which streams broadcasters’ programming over the Internet without compensating broadcasters — has attracted legal challenges from broadcasters, who say the company is violating copyright law. Aereo contends that it operates within the law by maintaining a small antenna for each subscriber it has.

Earlier this month, a district court in Utah ended Aereo’s winning streak over broadcasters by granting Fox a preliminary injunction against the online streaming company. Last month, the Supreme Court said it would take up broadcasters’ case against Aereo. Oral arguments are scheduled for April 22.

Mt. Gox resigns from bitcoin trade group: The pioneering bitcoin exchange site Mt. Gox is stepping down from the Bitcoin Foundation, it announced on Sunday.

The decision by Mt. Gox chief executive Mark Karpelès is the latest development in the Japanese company’s recent turbulence. The site, once considered among the virtual currency’s premier exchanges, has suffered bugs that made it impossible for people to get money from the site. Mt. Gox was a founding member of the Bitcoin Foundation, a trade group set up to promote the nascent currency.

The announcement makes for the second major member of the Bitcoin Foundation to resign in recent weeks. Last month, Vice Chairman Charlie Shrem stepped down after being arrested on charges of conspiracy to launder money.

 

ON TAP

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) are slated to speak at the National Association of Broadcasters’ state leadership conference.

The Commerce Department will hold its second meeting on facial recognition technology starting at 1:00 p.m.

Later in the afternoon, academics and think tank officials will discuss the cost of government surveillance programs at the New America Foundation. 

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Attorney General Eric Holder urged Congress to pass a law that would require companies to notify the public about data breaches. 

Two House Democrats on Monday called on their colleagues to reject a bill on the floor Tuesday aimed at giving people the right to "unlock" their cellphones and use them with different phone service carriers.

A coalition of more than three dozen privacy groups is urging the White House to push for privacy legislation. 

The FCC’s decision to take up new net neutrality rules would “put the consumers back in the driver’s seat,” according to a top House Democrat.

Major TV broadcasters want the Supreme Court to shut down the Internet video service Aereo, which they say is premised on a violation of copyright law.

The country’s top lawyers’ trade group is raising a formal complaint about the U.S. government’s support for spying on confidential legal communications.

 

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