Consumer Privacy Advocates Quit the Process on Facial Recognition; NTIA to Press Ahead on July 28

July 2015

In June, privacy advocates pulled out of a National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA)-convened multistakeholder process intended to develop a voluntary code of conduct for the use of facial recognition technology (FRT). NTIA’s process was looking at use cases and prioritizing areas of concern.

FRT can be used for authentication, identification, or tracking, and is being integrated into industries like banking, health care, retail, transportation, and social media. Privacy groups have raised concerns about the technology and its evolution and use. So NTIA undertook bringing stakeholders together to identify basic concerns, possible solutions, and areas of agreement, with the goal of creating a code of conduct.

Participants in NTIA’s efforts included several trade associations and individual technology companies. Speaking for consumers were the Center for Democracy & Technology, Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Federation of America, Common Sense Media, Electronic Frontier Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union, Consumer Action, and Consumer Watchdog. The process had been ongoing for more than a year.

At a June 11 NTIA session, no common ground could be found after the groups became stuck on the basic question of consumer consent to the use of facial recognition technology, and the right to opt out. This was of critical importance to privacy groups, but some industry representatives proposed tabling it in favor of other areas of potential agreement. The advocates decided to leave after a session break, and they followed up a few days later with a letter pulling out of the process. The advocates wrote, “we do not believe that the NTIA process is likely to yield a set of privacy rules that offers adequate protections for the use of facial recognition technology.” So they stated they were terminating their participation.

Industry codes of conduct have been adopted and used in other areas related to privacy and consumer protection, but multistakeholder efforts on controversial issues like this may just be too difficult. The objecting consumer groups wrote that they “hope that our withdrawal signals the need to reevaluate the effectiveness of multistakeholder processes in developing effective rules of the road that protect consumer privacy – and that companies will support and implement.” It remains to be seen whether such groups will seek to rejoin the NTIA effort, or shift their focus to regulators and policymakers. NTIA announces that it will convene the next meeting of the facial recognition multistakeholder group on July 28.

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