Recall the uproar that accompanied Facebook’s announcement of its facial recognition technology? It died away rather quickly, but the issue of this Orwellian technology is here to stay. With that in mind, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) called a Senate hearing on the issue yesterday, “What Facial Recognition Technology Means for Privacy and Civil Liberties.”
Rob Sherman, Manager of Privacy and Public Policy at Facebook, and Jennifer Lynch, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), as well as representatives from the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, and professors testified on the subject.
Franken opened the hearing by stating, “I want to be clear that there’s nothing either inherently right or wrong with facial recognition technology… but if we do not stop and carefully consider the way that we use this technology it could also be abused in ways that could threaten basic aspects of privacy and our basic civil liberties.”
Franken referenced Facebook’s Tagged Suggestions technology, which uses facial recognition, making it the world’s largest faceprint database. Then he turned to FBI and state facial recognition programs.
I fear that these gains could eventually come at high cost to our civil liberties. I fear that the FBI pilot could be abused to not only identify protesters at political events and rallies, but to target them for selective jailing and prosecution, stifling their First Amendment rights. Curiously enough a lot of the presentations on this technology by the Department of Justice show it being used on people attending political events or other public gatherings.
“[F]ace recognition allows for covert, remote and mass capture and identification of images—and the photos that may end up in a database include not just a person’s face but also how she is dressed and possibly whom she is with,” stated Lynch, who argued that there should be “a warrant requirement based on probable cause for police to use this technology.”
Lynch urged “to limit unnecessary biometrics collection; instill proper protections on data collection, transfer, and search; ensure accountability; mandate independent oversight; require appropriate legal process before government collection; and define clear rules for data sharing at all levels.”
It’s also important to remember that the threat here lies not only in government but in private industry. Crime is a problem, but it will never leave us. No amount of crime or profit motive justifies wide-ranging facial technology implementation, usurping the human right to privacy and to live in a free, non-Orwellian state.