Some big groups have pulled out of meetings about facial recognition technology

Questions have been percolating about what sort of safeguards will be in place for commercial use of facial recognition technology. This has led to a series of meetings — spearheaded by the National Telecommunications Information Administration — among government officials, technology groups, and privacy advocates in the hopes of crafting “privacy safeguards.”

These proceedings, however, have suffered a setback after nine privacy organisations announced they are backing out because their minimum requirements were not met.

A joint statement from the companies exiting the meetings, which include the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Consumer Watchdog, reads:

At a base minimum, people should be able to walk down a public street without fear that companies they have never heard of are tracking their every movement and identifying them by name using facial recognition technology. Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain agreement even with that basic, specific premise. 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.

The EFF, in another blog post published earlier today, goes even further and decries federal use of face recognition technology. “Despite the sensitivity of face recognition data,” it writes, “the federal government and state and local law enforcement agencies continue to build ever-larger face recognition databases.”

Despite months of meetings, a tipping point has now been reached and these nine organisations are leaving the conversation. According to the EFF, the privacy advocates’ most important goal was to establish an “opt-in regime,” where people had to knowingly accept to being facially recognised. It seems it didn’t work out.

Even with this mass exodus, an NTIA spokeswoman told the New York Times that the agency will continue with meetings “for those stakeholders who want to participate.”

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