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Privacy and Facial Recognition Technology

December 3, 2013

Today, we are launching a new privacy multistakeholder process on commercial use of facial recognition technology.  Facial recognition technology uses software to help identify a person based on a digital image.

Companies are beginning to use facial recognition for a wide range of commercial applications.  Businesses are incorporating facial recognition capabilities into photo management software, in-store camera systems, online services, game consoles, and mobile devices. Facial recognition technology has the potential to improve services for consumers, support innovation by businesses, and affect identification and authentication online and offline.  However, the technology poses distinct consumer privacy challenges.  Digital images are increasingly available, and the importance of securing faceprints and ensuring consumers’ appropriate control over their data is clear.  For this new multistakeholder process, discussions could include an examination of the privacy risks associated with the use of photo databases in stores and other commercial settings and face prints as a unique biometric identifier. 

The privacy multistakeholder process is an NTIA-led effort to implement the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, part of the Obama Administration’s blueprint for improving consumers’ privacy protections in the information age and promoting the continued growth of the digital economy.  The Administration has also called on Congress to enact baseline consumer privacy legislation.  

This announcement builds on our efforts to improve consumer privacy protections in the information age. Over the past year, NTIA convened a group of stakeholders – including companies, privacy advocates, consumer groups, application developers, and academics – to develop a code of conduct to improve privacy notices on mobile devices. In July, the stakeholders celebrated an important milestone when they agreed to begin testing and implementing this code on mobile app transparency.

NTIA will convene the first meeting on exploring privacy safeguards for the use of facial recognition technology in the commercial context on February 6, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. ET.  Additional meetings will follow through the spring and summer.  All stakeholders are welcome to attend, and the meetings will be webcast.

We hope that all interested stakeholders will participate in this process.