Facial Recognition Software Gets Wary Thumbs-Down By Senator
July 19, 2012

Facial Recognition Software Gets Wary Thumbs-Down By Senator

John Neumann for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

The use of facial recognition technologies is growing, both for law enforcement use and in social networks such as Facebook and Google+. The increasing use of such technology has members of the US Senate concerned over privacy and civil liberties with its use, writes Dara Kerr for CNET.

Minnesota Senator Al Franken said that in law enforcement, the use of facial recognition “will catch criminals,” but “could come at a high cost to our civil liberties” if police use the systems to target “innocent civilians.” Franken continued, “I´m concerned that it could be used to identify people marching around a courthouse or at a political rally.”

There was also concern that facial recognition used by social networks to “tag” members could be abused by divulging information that its members do not want made public.

Franken, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, questioned the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, and Facebook about their use of this computer science, according to The Verge.

Facebook automatically uses the hot button issue of facial recognition software in its photo-tagging feature. The European Union decided last year to launch an investigation into whether this feature violates European privacy regulations, reports Bob Lever for AFP.

“Law enforcement doesn´t need a warrant to use this technology,” Franken warned. On the commercial side, he said, “if a store wants to take a picture and generate a ℠faceprint,´ they can do it, and they might even be able to sell it to third parties.”

The Minnesota Senator raised concerns that the feature should be opt-in rather than automatic. Questioning Facebook´s manager of privacy and public policy, Rob Sherman, Franken noted that the social network does not mention the feature in its privacy settings and turning it off is complicated.

“In terms of implementing choice throughout our site, we do a number of options,” Sherman responded, according to The Verge. “We think [opt-in for tagging] is the appropriate choice because Facebook is an opt-in experience. People join Facebook because they want to share with each other.”

The FBI representative at the hearing claimed that facial recognition is used only for lawful “criminal justice purposes.”

However it´s not just the FBI employing facial recognition software, around 40 law enforcement agencies across the US are attempting to use mobile facial recognition technology to identify individuals. The software they are using was created by Apple and works on an iPhone. An Android version is also believed to be in development.

Privacy groups said laws need to be updated to offer more protection. “Businesses should never use facial recognitions techniques to obtain the actual identity of consumers without the consumer´s actual knowledge and informed consent,” said a statement submitted to the hearing by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“Consumers today enjoy enormous freedom and personal safety because they are able to interact with so many merchants, who are essentially strangers, without concern that they will be secretly tracked and profiled.”