Nine privacy advocates on Monday resigned in protest from a year-long attempt to develop a code of conduct for the use of facial recognition technology, citing a failure to agree on "basic, specific" safeguards with industry lobbyists.
"At a base minimum, people should be able to walk down a public street without fear that companies they've never heard of are tracking their every movement—and identifying them by name—using facial recognition technology," the privacy advocates wrote in a joint statement (pdf). "Unfortunately, we were unable to obtain agreement even with that basic, specific premise."
The U.S. Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) brought together a panel of security experts and lobbyists in February 2014 to develop a voluntary code of conduct "that specifies how the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights applies to facial recognition technology in the commercial context."
But over the course of 16 months, the nine privacy advocates—who include representatives from the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the Consumer Federation of America, among other groups—came to believe that the NTIA process was unlikely to "yield a set of privacy rules that offers adequate protections for the use of facial recognition technology."
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"In recent NTIA meetings...industry stakeholders were unable to agree on any concrete scenario where companies should employ facial recognition only with a consumer's permission," their statement reads. "The position that companies never need to ask permission to use biometric identification is at odds with consumer expectations, current industry practices, as well as existing state law."
Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Center for Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law School and one of the nine privacy advocates, said in a statement that the mass resignation "should be a wake-up call to Americans: Industry lobbyists are choking off Washington's ability to protect consumer privacy."