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Al Franken Calls for Tight Rules on Facial Recognition Software 158

Posted by timothy
from the let's-ask-binney-about-this dept.
angry tapir writes "The U.S. Congress may need to pass legislation that limits the way government agencies and private companies use facial recognition technology to identify people, according to U.S. Senator Al Franken, who chairs the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee's privacy subcommittee. The growing use of facial recognition technology raises serious privacy and civil liberties concerns, according to the senator, who has called on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Facebook to change the way they use facial recognition technology." Derrick Harris of GigaOM says "My gut instinct is to call Senator Al Franken a well-meaning fool when it comes to his latest outcry," but concedes that in this case "he actually has a point." Harris writes in an editorial that "If you've heard about Alessandro Acquisti's work with the technology, you know why this possibility should be a little scary. Snap a photo of someone with a smartphone, analyze an image against a database of social media or Flickr pics and, voila, you have a name. From there, it's easy to get someone's age, hometown, interests, news coverage, you name it." Related: judgecorp writes "YouTube has added a tool which automatically detects and anonymises faces in uploaded videos. YouTube parent Google says it is intended to allow dissidents in places like Syria to share videos without risking reprisals form the government — but it warned that this is not an exact science, so users should check videos through before making them public."
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Al Franken Calls for Tight Rules on Facial Recognition Software

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  • Papers Please (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 19, 2012 @11:15AM (#40699013)

    Facial Recognition Software is great because if you leave your "papers" at home they will still be able to identify you.

    In addition, they will also have access to your: personality profile, criminal records, court records, land records, birth certificate, marriage certificate, political contributions, address, phone number, date of birth, and embarrassing photos of you drunk in college.

  • Slippery Slope (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bigby (659157) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @11:17AM (#40699057)

    Technology is too good! We need to outlaw it!

    This is another case if outlawing technology. Someone can look at a person, compare them to a lineup of photos, and then look them up in a phonebook and call them. But because a computer can do it so much better and so much quicker, we are scared and feel the need to censor progress. What about the freedom to take photos? The freedom to process photos?

    I can only imagine that when someone invents teleportation, it will be outlawed and the designs burned and the inventor executed, because of the fear that 75% of the population will lose their jobs.

    When are we going to accept change and take steps to live within that world? If you are so afraid of it, then stop putting your photo online? If you are a celebrity, then too bad.

    I do agree that the government shouldn't be monitoring without a warrant though. Just like they aren't supposed to before technology.

  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @11:20AM (#40699139) Journal

    On one hand, I get concerned anytime someone wants to regulate a new technology. There is no immediate safety issue or security issue, so my initial reaction to a congresscritter wanting to dictate its usage is negative. Society has adapted to and will continue to adapt to advances in technology, so I don't see the benefit in creating a set of rules and procedures around the appropriate use of the technology.

    On the other hand, we certainly see an erosion of privacy in ways that we cou;dn't have imagined a few decades ago. So much of our lives are online, but it is very easy to opt out of Facebook or Google+ (those 12 of us who are part of it). But if this network extends into "real life" and can be married up to financial accounts and transactions made on credit card or debit cards, the mind boggles at the possibilites.

    The real issue in my mind is who this information belongs to. Is information about my purchase owned by me, by the party I do business with, the credit card company, all of the above? Should there be limitations in place on how this information gets shared? How in the world do you enforce a set of rules like this?

    And if you've been keeping score, I provided zero answers to any of the questions I raise. I don't have any to be honest. But yes, this is a weighty decision, but likely one that is long overdue.

  • by Sloppy (14984) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @11:24AM (#40699187) Homepage Journal

    Genies don't go back into bottles.

    And you can't regulate thought, even if some people are virtual cyborgs who do some of their thinking outside of their own bodies. If I already have the capacity to recognizes faces, there's nothing really all that bad about me getting a thousand times better at it. People's memory of having seen others, is already a "privacy concern", whether they are computer aided or not, but it's a realtively unimportant concern compared to others, and we're just quibbling about scale.

    It's also bizarre prioritizing. Mass surveillance is working because We The People ultimately have no real problem with the basic idea of it, we have decided we'd rather not require warrants, and stuff like that. Why should we concentrate on one detail for how people are being tracked (faces), when we don't care about any of the others (license plates on cars, people carrying active transmitters of unique ids, etc)? We should change our mind and decide that we want privacy, before we start arguing about specific techs.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Thursday July 19, 2012 @11:36AM (#40699393) Journal

    Technology is too good! We need to outlaw it!

    I think it's more along the lines of "technology is very powerful and often allows us to carry out our wildest dreams -- no matter how bad or good they are." I don't think he's pushing for outlawing it altogether but just regulating it. Examples I can think of include when we know a corporation is using it to, say, profile customers who visit public stores and shop in certain sections (without explicit consent) or say that the Church of Scientology decides to use it at protests. Is it wrong to regulate that kind of usage of it? Actually can you please explain where Franken said we need to "outlaw it"? Because you seem to be pushing this to an extreme to invalidate his point.

    This is another case if outlawing technology. Someone can look at a person, compare them to a lineup of photos, and then look them up in a phonebook and call them. But because a computer can do it so much better and so much quicker, we are scared and feel the need to censor progress. What about the freedom to take photos? The freedom to process photos?

    I can only imagine that when someone invents teleportation, it will be outlawed and the designs burned and the inventor executed, because of the fear that 75% of the population will lose their jobs.

    Technology is powerful, there's no way to argue with that. Look at the evolution of guns. Look at the advent of the Maxim gun. Do you think that the laws at the time covered cases where people start stockpiling automatic weapons? Technology has the power to enable to the user past their original abilities and as such, yes, we do find ourselves forced to regulate certain extremes. You can only imagine that the designs would be burned and inventor executed because that's what Al Franken is proposing we do to facial recognition? Try not to hyperbole on your way to the parking lot. We wouldn't outlaw teleportation used for transportation of goods and services, hell, why do you think we built the interstate highway system!? We would outlaw the use of teleporation to rob your neighbor's home or banks!

    When are we going to accept change and take steps to live within that world? If you are so afraid of it, then stop putting your photo online? If you are a celebrity, then too bad.

    I do agree that the government shouldn't be monitoring without a warrant though. Just like they aren't supposed to before technology.

    Yep, it's okay that this hurts everyone else right up until Big Brother and Evil Corp are using it to track/profile/target you and your family. Then I'll bet you'll come around to Al Franken's regulation of this technology in both private corporation and government sectors.

  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @11:38AM (#40699425)

    I create a high-speed facial recognition camera and sell a network of my devices set up along highways and major streets. I can with good accuracy identify people based on social media and I can track roughly the travel of millions of citizens a day. I can even quickly install temporary cameras around "problem areas." Now, the government probably can't buy this system, but they can license access to my database the same way the government has been licensing access to Total Information Awareness data mining databases from the private sector. Still don't see a problem?

  • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Thursday July 19, 2012 @11:44AM (#40699513) Homepage

    I don't agree. Mass surveillance is working because most of us aren't very aware that it's going on. When people do notice it's going on and they have a problem with it, they don't have any way to do anything about it.

    In my mind, I think the problem is more generalized than just being about facial recognition. When the United States was founded, they included the Bill or Rights to protect citizens from government intrusion, which I believe was a good idea. But with technology, the freedom against unreasonable searches becomes more complicated. Is wiretapping a search? Is it a search to put a tracker on someone to keep track of their whereabouts? If the government can include cameras and microphones and other sensors everywhere, and they can track everywhere you go, everything you say, and everything you do, is that a "search"?

    I think the government should certainly regulate how they can collect this kind of information. It's not an issue of putting the genie back in the bottle. We have rules about when law enforcement uses wiretapping. That's technology too, it's just older and so you're used to there being rules. In the same way, we should have rules about when they can use facial recognition or GPS trackers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 19, 2012 @11:53AM (#40699635)

    He grills the FBI for it, too. This was part of the House Judiciary Committee, after all.

    That part didn't make it into title, though, only the summary, so I understand your confusion. It's very difficult to read the article before commenting, and I guess now it's difficult to read the summary.

  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @12:20PM (#40700069)
    Actually I was conflating quartering soldiers with facial recognition. My point was that it is not as though the law is irrelevant when it comes to how the government behaves or how our rights are protected. We do not just reach for our guns whenever there is a new threat to our rights; we pass laws to protect those rights in a changing world.

    To put it another way, how else do you expect to prevent the police from using facial recognition systems to further expand their power? We are not going to walk around wearing masks, nor are we going to wear high intensity IR LEDs on our foreheads. Either we need to vote to stop the use of such systems without a warrant, or we need to accept that our rights will be eroded by new technology.
  • by DrgnDancer (137700) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @12:37PM (#40700387) Homepage

    Way to miss the point. He's saying that a libertarian should, logically, be in favor of a law that sets limits on government power. Much as the 4th Amendment (a law) prevents the government from turning your house into a barracks. As generally libertarian as this site is, I'm amazed that I haven't seen a single positive comment on this idea yet. Surely, whatever your opinion on Franken, the idea that the there should be limits on government use and abuse of facial recognition software is a win for both privacy and liberty. So far the comment all seem to lean toward "Al Franken is a liberal idiot so his idea much be awful no matter how much I might applaud if Ron Paul had said it".

  • by EdIII (1114411) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @01:08PM (#40700905)

    That line of reasoning applies to private property.

    Public property is a different matter, and government should always be treated differently when it comes to the acquisition and use of information. They have considerably more power than the average person on FaceStupid. It's a rather basic principle in Game Theory.

    If you allow the government to have ubiquitous surveillance in all public areas you have are preventing anybody from exercising their right to simply not be there. Staying inside your house all the time, without considerable subsidies from Mommy(tm), is not possible for a normal person.

    While I cannot stop my friends from putting up pictures with me in it on FaceStupid, and allowing FaceStupid to figure out who I am and then attempt to use that in marketing tactics, I can ask for laws to prevent the government from accessing or using that information.

    Which, by the way, would be extremely prudent. I don't know where you live, but there are plenty of places on this planet where you can be harmed or killed simply because of your beliefs and associations. The best way to prevent that in a so-called advanced society is to have laws and practices which prevent any powerful group from obtaining tools that can be used against the populace in such ways. That is not paranoia either, contrary to the popular claims that it is. There is nothing irrational or delusional about simply remembering history, and even now, just being aware of current events.

    While we are at it, I would *love* a law that prevents FaceStupid from using in any way any data obtained from facial recognition if they don't have a contract with me. My friends can store the information if they so choose, but FaceStupid cannot use it for any other processes other than categorization and display purposes for my friends.

    Of course, I can hear you and others saying that is regulation going to far and it is ridiculous of me to want to control my information once it is out there, etc., etc., etc. However, corporations are not people and should be recognized for having the power that they have along with government.

    It's insane to treat all entities the same when it comes to information regardless of differing levels of power.

  • Re:Slippery Slope (Score:4, Insightful)

    by EdIII (1114411) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @01:22PM (#40701129)

    It's not censoring progress, nor is it taking away the freedom to take photos, or process photos.

    It's rather simple. Only fucking human beings can enjoy freedom .

    Corporations and Governments are not human beings, and therefore should not be entitled to any sort of basic human rights.

    This is only prudent as well. Look up Game Theory. It's very clear that while all entities may possess the same information, that the more powerful entities can do more with it. You would think that would be common sense, but it is quite often overlooked, just as you are doing now.

    I'm sorry, but it is batshit insane crazy to have an argument about laws being applied to corporations and government and then to bring up rights and freedoms being abridged through the creation of laws and regulations upon them. They're corporations and governments. We might as well get upset that a toaster oven does not have the freedom of speech.

    I'm perfectly okay with you, as a human being, taking a photo of me along with hundreds of other people in a crowded public space. If you want to use advanced technology and tag me with an identity, that's your prerogative too.

    In the end though, you are just Bigby. What the heck are you going to man? You don't have massive resources at your disposal. You don't have the abilities of law enforcement to forcibly detain me. You really can't do all that much.

    Do you really think FaceStupid and Law Enforcement is as powerful as you, or more powerful? Do you think they could do more with that information, or less?

    Just think about it. It's not irrational to want laws to apply to just corporations and governments to preserve privacy and anonymity, when those two together are the single greatest tools we have to defend ourselves against a corrupt tyrannical regime like Syria, Libya, Burma, East Germany, etc., etc., etc., etc.,

  • by ffflala (793437) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @01:24PM (#40701171)

    . So much of our lives are online, but it is very easy to opt out of Facebook or Google+

    Well, not really. Facebook at least almost certainly has a fairly detailed data profile on you already, regardless of whether you have an account. Real-life example: I set up a facebook account using a pseudonym, and have never disclosed any of the following info: my real name, my hometown, my birth date, the various cities I've lived in, schools attended. I've occasionally polluted my profile with false tags and information.

    Unfortunately, I have a well-meaning, clueless aunt. Years ago, without my permission, she entered my name, birth date, hometown, and then-current place of residence in a shady, Eastern European hosted "genealogical site", and helpfully gave them my email address. So this info has been available through various search engines for some time. Even before I gave it up as useless and facebook friended her, she had began uploading dozens of pictures of me and other family members to facebook, from years back to current, and tagging them with our real names. (I'm surprised she didn't include phone numbers or addresses.)

    So now, thanks to the carelessness and ignorance of a 3d party over whom I had no control, years of cautiously guarding my privacy online has been for naught, just because someone else spilled the beans before they understood the implications. Quite a bit of my personal info --some of which is used to authenticate my identity for financial transactions-- is now easily accessible even if you don't have uncontrolled access to facebook's profile. Just photograph my face, get my name from the autotag suggestion, and search on my name.

  • Re:Right, so (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gtall (79522) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @01:52PM (#40701555)

    Most reps and senators are honorable people, there are a few bad eggs. Yesterday in front of the House Armed Services Committee, they had heads of several corporations that supply the military, Lockheed-Martin was one I recall, but they also had some smaller firms and even very small firms. Several on the committee encouraged the panel to tell them what to do, raise taxes or cut expenditures. To a man and a woman, the panel said it was not their job to tell Congress what to do, they were only there to point out the effects of Sequestration were it to happen (actually, the effects are already starting because businesses have to plan ahead). To a man and woman, the Committee claimed they didn't want Sequestration but it is there and they must do something about it.

    Then a congressman from Ohio got his chance, last name was Ryan I believe (not the well-known Ryan). Dunno if he was Dem or Rep. He told off the panel by saying that every Tom, Dick, and Mary, and Jane had advice: don't raise taxes, keep all services. In short, he accused the panel of doing the same by refusing to answer what they thought Congress should do. The result was that there is no consensus from the American people about what Congress should do, but they expect Congress to fix the problem the people helped to create by voting in representatives, senators, and presidents but never calling them to task for the financial problems.

    The point: it is the American people which caused Congress's spending and taxing problems, not the other way around. So stop acting like you somehow have Seen the Light and Congress is full of jackals. It isn't. It is the American People who refuse to take responsibility and tell Congress they are willing to bear increased taxes and decreased expenditures to fix the budget.

    And as much as I don't like Al Franken and believe he has no sense of fiscal responsibility believing government can solve everything and bring to the Promised Bunny Land, one thing he is not is corrupt.

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