Technology

Facial-recognition talks collapse over privacy issues

Facial recognition system Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Millions of images of faces are already being used by police and private companies, privacy advocates warn

Privacy campaigners have walked out of talks aimed at creating a code of conduct for companies keen to use facial-recognition technology.

In an open letter, the groups said they had quit because of "fundamental" differences over use of the technology.

And there had been little prospect that the talks would have produced "adequate protections" for citizens.

People deserved better protection than the talks had been likely to have produced, they said.

Basic values

The discussions, brokered by the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the body that oversees technology policy issues, began in February 2014.

Nine separate privacy groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Center for Democracy and Technology, were invited.

But the groups' letter said the companies involved had refused to accept they needed prior permission from people being identified by the technology.

At a "base minimum", said the rights groups, people should be able to walk down a street without having to worry that companies unknown to them were tracking them and trying to work out who they were.

"Unfortunately," read the letter, "we have been unable to obtain agreement even with that basic, specific premise."

The NTIA told tech news site The Register the talks would continue to debate some of the "thorniest privacy topics concerning facial recognition" without the privacy groups.

It said it would "continue to facilitate meetings on this topic for those stakeholders who want to participate".

Already, said the EFF in a statement explaining its decision to quit, millions of facial images had been captured and processed by law enforcement agencies and private companies.

It said biometric data, such as fingerprints and facial features, was a different class of sensitive data because it could not be changed.

"Through facial recognition, these immutable, physical facts can be used to identify you, remotely and in secret, without any recourse," it said.

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