- A bipartisan Senate bill, introduced last week by U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-MO., and Brian Schatz, D-HI, would require companies to tell consumers when they are using facial recognition technology and would require end user consent to redistribute or disseminate data acquired through facial recognition.
- The Commercial Facial Recognition Privacy Act of 2019 would also require third-party testing and human review of facial recognition technology designed to correct accuracy and bias issues. Providers would have to meet data security, minimization and retention standards.
- The bill drew immediate support from Microsoft. In a statement, Microsoft president Brad Smith said the use of facial recognition technology “needs to be regulated to protect against acts of bias and discrimination, preserve consumer privacy and uphold our basic democratic freedoms."
As facial recognition technology has expanded to more public venues, so have concerns about its potential misuse. In December, eight Democratic lawmakers sent a letter about their "heightened concern” over the use of the technology, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has said such technology is "primed for abuse in the hands of governments." Especially concerning is the possibility for bias against minorities. The ACLU in August uploaded 10,000 mugshots into Amazon’s Rekognition software and cross-referenced photos of every member of Congress, producing 28 false matches that were disproportionately African-American.
The concerns have prompted some government action, with the city of San Francisco weighing a bill that would bar government use of the technology.
It comes as public safety agencies have increasingly found uses for facial recognition. Orlando, FL has run two pilots with Rekognition, exploring its use in catching suspects and in crowd control, and others have eyed similar pilots. The Department of Homeland Security has used it to help identify people who are overstaying their visas. Some airports have started offering biometric scanning to replace boarding documents.
The federal bill would give citizens more control over the data acquired through facial recognition and would put more restrictions on private companies. More disclosure would also help consumers understand where and why facial recognition is being used. In a statement, Blunt said the bill would provide “guardrails” on the industry to ensure that the technology “is implemented responsibly.”
Microsoft’s early support, despite building facial recognition into its Azure platform, is notable and could improve the bill’s reception. It also addresses Smith’s public concerns about how the technology would be used by competitors. In a blog post from December, Smith warned of a “commercial race to the bottom, with companies forced to choose between social responsibility and market success,” calling for a “floor of responsibility.”