Facial recognition may need regulating

Congress might need to pass legislation to limit the way government agencies and private companies use facial recognition technology to identify people, a U.S. senator said recently.

The growing use of facial recognition tools raises serious privacy concerns, said Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's privacy subcommittee.

During a subcommittee hearing, Franken called on the FBI and Facebook to change the way they use facial recognition technology. "I believe that we have a fundamental right to control our private information," he said.

No existing U.S. laws limit the use of facial recognition tools in the public or private sectors, said people who testified before the subcommittee. The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have huge databases of biometric identifiers, and they're adding facial data to them. Meanwhile, Facebook users are uploading 300 million photos to the social networking site every day, said Jennifer Lynch, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Many Americans don't even realize that they're already in a facial recognition database," she said.

The FBI is testing facial recognition tools in criminal cases, said Jerome Pender, a deputy assistant director in the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division. It uses a mugshot database that doesn't contain photos of people who have never been arrested, he said.

Others who testified said the technology is a useful tool that helps police arrest the correct people more quickly.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

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