Obama administration to look at facial-recognition technology and privacy

How comfortable are you with the widespread use of facial-recognition and reading technology with little in the way of privacy guidelines?

A tad squeamish, I’m sure.

Well, the Obama administration, through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, announced Tuesday that it is convening a discussion on the privacy implications of facial-recognition technology as part of the agency’s ongoing privacy study. The goal will be to develop a “voluntary, enforceable code of conduct that specifies how the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights applies to facial recognition technology,” the agency said.

The power and the potential of the technology is hard to fathom.  The NTIA said in its announcement:

Facial recognition technology has the potential to improve services for consumers, support innovation by businesses, and affect identification and authentication online and offline.

But the privacy implications can be frightening. In his letter to the NTIA asking the agency to take up the issue,  Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) described how a stranger can secretly take a person’s photo and then identify the person by name. He goes on to raise concerns about the protections for consumers as companies such as Facebook employ the technology more.

Whether the NTIA process will result in any action will depend on those attending, typically people from the private and public sectors. Last year, a year-long discussion resulted in the first privacy code for mobile app transparency.

The first meeting on facial-recognition technology is in February.


At top, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. Photo by Jeffrey Thompson/Getty Images

Michelle Quinn Michelle Quinn (78 Posts)

Michelle Quinn is a Business Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. Prior to her current role, she was the Silicon Valley correspondent at Politico covering tech policy and politics. She has also covered the tech industry at the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. She was a blogger for the New York Times.