Commerce Dept. to create privacy "code of conduct" for facial recognition technology

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The Department of Commerce has launched an initiative that will examine the commercial use of facial recognition technology, with the goal of bringing forth best practices that would help protect consumers' privacy rights.

On Tuesday, Lawrence Strickling, administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), announced the effort on the agency's blog, which is meant to support President Obama's framework (PDF) for consumer data privacy.

NTIA is an arm of the Commerce Department and will lead the endeavor.

“Facial recognition technology has the potential to improve services for consumers, support innovation by businesses, and affect identification and authentication online and offline,” Strickling wrote. “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.”

Namely, NTIA aims to examine the privacy risks brought forth by use of photo databases “in stores and other commercial settings” and of face prints as a “unique biometric identifier,” Strickling said.

NTIA will hold meetings between February and June of 2014 on the commercial implementation of facial recognition technology, addressing how it impacts the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

Of note, the agency said via an overview of the meetings that the goal of the initiative was to create a “voluntary, enforceable code of conduct” that specifies how the technology impacts consumers' privacy.

The first meeting on Feb. 6 will provide stakeholders with background information on how facial recognition software is used by enterprises, how it will be implemented in the “near future,” and what privacy concerns its use might evoke.

Strickling noted that the move comes at a time when businesses are using facial recognition technology in a “wide range of commercial applications” including, photo management software, in-store camera systems, gaming and online systems, and mobile devices.

On Tuesday, Apple was issued a patent which appears to grant the tech giant intellectual property rights to a system for using face detection and recognition to control personal computing devices.

The company played a major role in widening the implementation of biometric authentication when it introduced its fingerprint scanner, called Touch ID, in September with the iPhone 5s.

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