Commerce Department Continues to Show Disregard for Consumer Privacy by “convening” industry dominated group on facial recognition without participation of consumer and privacy civil society groups

By: Jeff Chester | Mar 29 2016
Lobbyists craft purposefully vague proposals without any real safeguards for biometric data

Americans face new privacy threats from the use of their facial and other biometric information, as personal details of our physical selves are captured, analyzed and used for commercial purposes.  Facial recognition technologies are part of the ever-growing data collection and profiling being conduced daily on Americans today—whether we are online and offline.  Companies want to be able to use the power of facial recognition to make decisions about us—including how we are to be treated in stores and on websites. 

Consumer groups have called on industry to support pro-consumer and pro-rights policies that would ensure an individual can decide whether facial and other personal physical information can be collected in the first place.  Last June, however, the industry dominated process led by the Department of Commerce refused to support respecting a persons’ right to control how their biometric data can be gathered and used.  As a result, consumer and privacy groups withdrew from the Commerce Department “stakeholder” convening on facial recognition.  These meetings—primarily dominated by industry lobbyists—are part of a White House initiated effort to design “codes of conduct” to ensure American’s have greater privacy rights.    But instead of trying to address the concerns of the consumer and privacy community about meaningful safeguards for facial recognition when used for commercial purposes, the Commerce Department merely continued the process without their participation.  For the Commerce Department, its priority is to help grow the consumer data profiling industry—regardless of whether Americans face a serious threat to their privacy and the consequences of potential discriminatory and unfair practices.

Today, the Commerce Department is considering industry proposals on facial recognition that fail to ensure the American public is protected by the growing use of facial data collection for commercial use.  The drafts allow unlimited use of our most personal data without effective safeguards.  Instead of ensuring basic rights—such as giving people the right to make informed decisions prior to the collection of their facial data—the industry proposes a scheme that would allow it to harvest our faces, skin color, age, race/ethnicity and more without any limit.  

By allowing such a clearly inadequate and self-serving industry proposal to be considered at all, the Department of Commerce (and its NTIA division) demonstrates it cannot be trusted to protect consumers.  It is putting the commercial interests of the data industry ahead of its responsibilities to the American public.  The process and the proposals are not reflective of America today.  We cannot believe that President Obama endorses how his Commerce Department has transformed the idea of a “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” into one that really gives carte blanche to the unfettered use of our faces and other highly personal biometric information.

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