Privacy activists mass-quit U.S. government committee on facial recognition privacy

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is trying to work out the rules for facial recognition — whether and when cameras can be put in public places that programatically identify you as you walk past and then save a record of where you've been and who you were with.

NTIA — part of the Commerce Department — invited privacy groups to sit on the committee alongside industry, but the deliberations did not impress the privacy groups as a process likely to produce a decent outcome. On Monday, nine privacy groups walked out of the group in a mass-resignation, stating that "Industry lobbyists are choking off Washington's ability to protect consumer privacy."

"This should be a wake-up call to Americans: Industry lobbyists are choking off Washington's ability to protect consumer privacy," Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, said in a statement.

"People simply do not expect companies they've never heard of to secretly track them using this powerful technology. Despite all of this, industry associations have pushed for a world where companies can use facial recognition on you whenever they want — no matter what you say. This position is well outside the mainstream."

Ben Sobel, a researcher and Google Policy Fellow at the Center on Privacy & Technology, wrote last week for the Washington Post about the extraordinary advances in facial recognition technology that have gone largely unnoticed by the public. "Being anonymous in public might be a thing of the past," he wrote.

Privacy Advocates Walk Out in Protest Over U.S. Facial Recognition Code of Conduct [Dan Froomkin/The Intercept]

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Don Relyea, CC-BY