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U.S. Cities, EU Address Privacy Concerns Related to Facial Recognition Technology

on Friday, 24 January 2020 in Technology & Intellectual Property Update: Arianna C. Goldstein, Editor

This month (January 2020), the City Council of Portland, Oregon, will consider a measure that would prohibit private companies from using software that maps a person’s face from a photo or video.  Portland joins a growing list of local, state, and national governments that are attempting to ensure greater consumer privacy in the area of facial recognition.

Facial recognition software captures and measures the anatomical features of an individual’s face and compares it against a database of biometric information to identify the individual.  Its uses vary widely and include things like cell phone locks and airline boarding passes, but opponents of the use of facial recognition software are primarily concerned with the use of facial recognition software for surveillance purposes.  

While the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, California (and, as of October 2019, the State of California), have recently adopted measures prohibiting the use of facial recognition software, such measures have applied only to agencies of those cities—and, most importantly to lawmakers and the local police departments.

Portland’s proposed ordinance would apply not only to city agencies, such as city police departments, but also to private businesses.  Proponents of the law view the measure as necessary to protect individuals in Portland from potentially constant—and automated—surveillance.

Recent reports suggest that lawmakers in the European Union (EU) are also weighing a temporary ban on the use of facial recognition software by both private and public actors.  Recent laws in several American states related to consumer privacy are applicable to the biometric information processed by facial recognition software, but none of them create a prohibition on the use of such information.  Currently, there is no federal regulation related to the use of facial recognition software, but several bills have been proposed in Congress in recent years.  It is likely that this area will be the subject of legislative attention throughout the world in the future.

Patrick M. Kennedy

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