Today, EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch urged Congress to limit the collection of biometrics and protect privacy with respect to the use of face recognition technology. Jennifer’s testimony [PDF] in a Senate hearing on “What Facial Recognition Technology Means for Privacy and Civil Liberties” outlined the privacy and security concerns that are inherent to automatic face recognition.

This is a pressing issue because, as we've noted before here and here, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are already incorporating face recognition technology into their extensive biometric databases, which are accessible in real-time by state and local law enforcement, the Department of Defense, the State Department and other federal agencies. Moreover, companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and various mobile app providers have already started to index faces for private face recognition databases.

The use of face recognition technology raises important First and Fourth Amendment concerns, though the scope of Constitutional protections in this area is unclear. Jennifer testified that “[f]ace recognition allows for covert, remote and mass capture and identification of images—and the photos that may end up in a database include not just a person’s face but also how she is dressed and possibly whom she is with.” While people cannot participate in society without showing their faces in public, they still have an expectation of privacy in their biometric data. Jennifer therefore stated that there should be “a warrant requirement based on probable cause for police to use this technology.” At the same time, the use of social media to communicate with family and friends has become an important practice. Automatic connection between peoples’ faces and their use of social media is therefore troubling.

Jennifer therefore asked Congress “to limit unnecessary biometrics collection; instill proper protections on data collection, transfer, and search; ensure accountability; mandate independent oversight; require appropriate legal process before government collection; and define clear rules for data sharing at all levels.”

We would like to thank Senator Al Franken for holding a hearing on this important issue.