The U.S. government’s efforts to build a code of conduct for facial recognition software creators has hit a major snag: Privacy advocates are boycotting the process and saying adequate privacy controls aren’t planned for massive databases that can identify millions of American citizens.
A team of nine advocacy groups–including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the Consumer Federation of America–walked out of talks en masse, bringing an end to more than a year of negotiations. In a joint statement, the groups said there simply wasn’t enough common ground to build a privacy framework with software makers and the United States government that would adequately protect citizens:
We believe that people have a fundamental right to privacy. People have the right to control who gets their sensitive information, and how that information is shared. And there is no question that biometric information is extremely sensitive. You can change your password and your credit card number; you cannot change your fingerprints or the precise dimensions of your face. Through facial recognition, these immutable, physical facts can be used to identify you, remotely and in secret, without any recourse.
In a blog post justifying its decision to leave the talks, the EFF specifically noted the massive and unregulated use of facial-recognition algorithms by law enforcement, the federal government, Facebook, and a host of other companies. Europe, Illinois, and Texas all require specific opt-in consent to including one’s face in facial-recognition databases, but the companies participating in U.S. government talks refused to agree to such systems under any circumstances. The post implies that this stance is what led to the organizations’ withdrawal from negotiations.
Earlier this year, Fast Company’s David Lumb reported on how facial recognition is the next battleground for personal privacy.