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December 04, 2013

NTIA Announces Meetings to Evaluate Commercial Use of Facial Recognition

Facial recognition technology has a lot of interesting applications, both governmental and in the private sector. As companies seek better ways to authenticate customers rather than the weak passwords and challenge questions they use now, facial recognition is one of the methods proposed, along with voiceprint technology that recognizes individual and unique speech patterns. Some gaming systems already use facial recognition to save multiple users of a system having to log in, and a smattering of police departments use it to compare individuals under arrest to databases of known criminals.

The privacy implications for facial recognition technology are not insignificant however. It is acceptable, for example, for a store to use the technology to recognize customers walking in so they can customize offers to that individual via text messaging, for example? Many people would draw the line there, unnerved by the idea that a company is scanning your face and registering your presence in the store, and perhaps saving that information.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), a branch of the Commerce Department that oversees issues of technology, recently announced the date of the first meeting of what it’s calling a “privacy multi-stakeholder process” with regards to the commercial use of facial recognition technology. The meeting has been scheduled for February 6, 2014. Other meetings will follow in February, March, April, May, and June 2014, said the agency.

The goal of the meetings, according to the NTIA, is to develop a voluntary, enforceable code of conduct that specifies how the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights applies to facial recognition technology.  The process regarding facial recognition technology is part of the framework set up in the White House’s 2012 document, “Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World: A Framework for Protecting Privacy and Promoting Innovation in the Global Digital Economy” (sometimes called the ‘‘Privacy Blueprint’’).

“Facial recognition technology has the potential to improve services for consumers, support innovation by businesses, and affect identification and authentication online and offline," the NTIA said in a statement. "However, the technology poses distinct consumer privacy challenges."

The group is expected to make decisions on a number of issues, including how to keep sensitive biometric data (facial images, in this case) secure,  providing transparency when facial recognition is being used  in retail stores or other public places, and developing meaningful controls for consumers when the source material for facial recognition technology – digital images – is often widely available.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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