The FTC on Monday released a staff report on Face Recognition, offering “best practices for common uses of facial recognition technologies.” The report resulted from a workshop the agency held on the issue last year. Face recognition is in some ways the ultimate biometric identifier, and its potential to finally and decisively put an end to the possibility of anonymity in public is very real.
The FTC report offers a useful rundown of the range of possible uses for the technology, including:
Obviously it’s identification that raises most of the privacy issues. The New York Times ran a story Monday on a new legal challenge to a New York law banning the wearing of masks at protests. Believe it or not, in New York it is illegal for three or more people to wear masks in public. The article doesn’t mention face recognition, but if the technology enters into broader use such laws will take on much more importance.
The FTC recommends that companies using face recognition “design their services with privacy in mind.” Specifically:
All good guidelines, though of course as the report itself notes, none of it is binding unless a company promises to do one thing and then does another (at which point the agency’s authority to police “unfair or deceptive trade practices” kicks in).
More fundamentally, the FTC’s guidelines do not reach to the heart of the issue, which is whether the de facto anonymity that most people have enjoyed in urban areas since the dawn of industrialism will come to an end through the use of face recognition technology and ever-more-pervasive video surveillance cameras to routinely record everyone’s comings and goings.