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United States Privacy Digest | Notes from the IAPP Publications Editor, July 20, 2018 Related reading: Notes from the IAPP Publications Editor, Dec. 14, 2018

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Greetings from Portsmouth, NH!

When I first started writing about privacy for IAPP publications in 2011, one of the first events I covered was the Federal Trade Commission roundtable on facial recognition technology. At the time, the technology was still relatively new and mysterious. Throughout the day, stakeholders were careful to differentiate between facial detection and facial recognition technology. The former, at the time, was much more commonly used than the latter. Recognition technology depended on photographic clarity and a robust database with which to match identities.

Well, seven years later, facial recognition technology is no longer a pipe dream. It’s no longer in beta. It’s entering the mainstream in more ways than one.

This week alone presented a number of examples of facial recognition’s increasing use in the wild. NBC News reported that more than 100 summer camps for kids now offer the technology so parents can be alerted when a photo is taken of their child at camp. Fill out the necessary information, share your phone number, and –  boom! – there’s a picture of little Johnny playing water polo texted right to your phone. Similarly, a company called RealNetworks launched a website where school administrators can download free software that integrates with school camera systems. The purpose? To curb school shootings. Rob Glaser, one of the minds behind the SAFR software, said, “We feel like we’re hitting something there can be a social consensus around: that using facial recognition technology to make schools safer is a good thing.”

Public safety is why the French city of Nice, which sustained a horrific terrorist attack two years ago, is employing some surveillance technology, but there has been growing opposition among its citizenry to the facial recognition employed on public cameras. Other places in the world, most notably China, are, in fact, deploying domestic surveillance systems, including facial recognition, to construct perhaps the most advanced surveillance state in the world.

Of course, “Orwellian” is the word most used to describe such a reality.

It was heartening, then, to see that Microsoft has come out in favor of public regulation of facial recognition technology. In a lengthy blog post, Microsoft President Brad Smith called for U.S. government regulation of facial recognition technology, going as far as laying out some early recommendations. Though he believes many companies are using the technology in a responsible manner, others are not. “In a democratic republic,” he wrote, “there is no substitute for decision making by our elected representatives regarding the issues that require the balancing of public safety with the essence of our democratic freedoms. Facial recognition will require the public and private sectors alike to step up — and to act.”

Hear, hear. Let’s hope other companies and lawmakers jump aboard.

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