yesAndrea PetersonNone
×

Get access to Protocol

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
Politics

That facial recognition moratorium may not be much of a ban at all

Experts warn that it could unintentionally encourage the continued expansion of the technology.

Sen. Cory Booker

Sens. Cory Booker and Jeff Merkley introduced legislation meant to prevent the government from tracking citizens everywhere they go.

Photo: Getty Images North America

When is a ban not a ban? When it might unintentionally inspire a practice it attempts to outlaw.

Last week, Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Jeff Merkley introduced the Ethical Use of Facial Recognition Act, which seems to suggest at least a temporary "moratorium" on the tech.

Get what matters in tech, in your inbox every morning. Sign up for Source Code.

"I'm basically trying to take on the federal government from being a Big Brother government that tracks Americans everywhere you go," Merkley said in a Wednesday interview with Recode. "It's a technology that's spreading very, very quickly, and it has huge implications for privacy and for the power of government. And I think we should hit the pause button."

To be sure, the bill does block federal funding for facial recognition systems until a bipartisan commission recommends, and Congress acts on, rules that consider issues such as protecting civil liberties by reducing racially biased error rates — a known problem with the technology.

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, a law professor at University of the District of Columbia who testified before Congress about facial recognition tech last year, called the bill a "great first step."

"The idea of a formal pause and an official commission makes a great deal of sense in the current informal and ad hoc environment," he said.

But the bill only applies to federal use of the technology. And even then, it also includes a huge carve out: Federal officials could still use facial recognition technology if they get a warrant. And some experts warn it could end up actually expanding the use of the technology by the federal law enforcement.

"While the warrant requirement appears to be a good baseline in theory, in practice its implementation will not just allow but, more importantly, incentivize the continued expansion of facial surveillance infrastructure," said Evan Selinger, a philosophy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology. "The expansion will drive mission creep and, eventually, leave society in the regretful position of the metaphorical slowly boiling frog."

Farhang Heydari, executive director of the Policing Project at NYU's School of Law, also has questions about how such warrants would work practically, which the bill in its current form does not fully describe. "What is it that police would need to show? That they have probable cause to believe the unidentified individual committed a crime?" he asked.

Even Ferguson, who advocates for a warrant requirement in some uses, is worried about the carve out in this bill.

"I think it would allow face surveillance and face tracking with a warrant, which might be more permissive than they would want to grant," he told Protocol in an email. "It is one thing to require a warrant for face identification, but to allow generalized face surveillance (even with a warrant) would be quite an expansion of existing use."

Facial recognition technology has multiple use cases. Identification, like when you run an image of a suspect against a database to for a match, is generally considered less invasive than real-time surveillance or tracking where everyone in a place might be identified and logged.

Neither Booker nor Merkley responded to a request for comment at the time of publishing.

Pushback against facial recognition has grown more acute than ever in recent weeks. One facial recognition provider, Clearview AI, offers an app built on billions of images scraped from the internet and has been used by hundreds of police departments around the country, The New York Times reported in January. The backlash to that revelation was swift: New Jersey's attorney general announced he was barring state prosecutors from using the app, and a coalition of 40 organizations petitioned the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to rein in government use of facial recognition technology.

Meanwhile, UCLA on Wednesday canceled a plan to use a facial-recognition security system on its campus, after students and privacy advocates spoke out against it. And all this pressure follows a groundswell in local stands being taken against the technology. In some cases, cities, including in San Francisco and Cambridge, have enacted local bans on facial recognition being used by the police and other city agencies.

Even with the carve out concerns, the legislation proposed by Booker and Merkley is still one of the more aggressive legislative attempts to take on facial recognition. It goes further, for example, than a bill introduced in November by Sens. Christopher Coons and Mike Lee, which proposed a structure requiring court orders for public surveillance, but with its own carve out for "exigent circumstances."

Perhaps a bigger problem for any of these calls for making federal use of facial recognition technology more difficult is that Congress passing, and President Trump signing, the bill seems unlikely.

App store laws, Microsoft AR and Square buys Tidal

Welcome to this weekend's Source Code podcast.

Cole Burston/Bloomberg

This week on the Source Code podcast: First, an update on Google's user-tracking change. Then, Ben Pimentel joins the show to discuss Square buying Tidal, and what it means for the fintech and music worlds. Later, Emily Birnbaum explains the bill moving through the Arizona legislature that has Google and Apple worried about the future of app stores. And finally, Janko Roettgers discusses Microsoft Mesh, the state of AR and VR headsets, and when we're all going to be doing meetings as holograms.

For more on the topics in this episode:

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

Keep Reading Show less
Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Protocol | Policy

Far-right misinformation: Facebook's most engaging news

A new study shows that before and after the election, far-right misinformation pages drew more engagement than all other partisan news.

A new study finds that far right misinformation pulls in more engagement on Facebook than other types of partisan news.

Photo: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

In the months before and after the 2020 election, far-right pages that are known to spread misinformation consistently garnered more engagement on Facebook than any other partisan news, according to a New York University study published Wednesday.

The study looked at Facebook engagement for news sources across the political spectrum between Aug. 10, 2020 and Jan. 11, 2021, and found that on average, far-right pages that regularly trade in misinformation raked in 65% more engagement per follower than other far-right pages that aren't known for spreading misinformation.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

Keep Reading Show less
Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Protocol | Policy

A Bloomberg-backed ‘tech co’ is building campaign tools for the left and right

The stealthy firm, which has been buying political tech firms for more than a year, is backed by Emma Bloomberg's philanthropic group.

The new firm, called Tech co., is backed by Michael Bloomberg's daughter, Emma Bloomberg.

Image: Clayton Cardinalli

A new company backed by Michael Bloomberg's daughter Emma Bloomberg has been quietly buying political tech firms and going on a hiring spree, as it seeks to create a digital organizing platform that operates "outside of a traditional 'Red/Blue' partisan paradigm."

Neither the existence of the firm, called simply Tech co. for now, nor its high-profile funder have been previously reported, though it's been up and running for at least a year. But a spate of recent job listings seeking data scientists, behavioral scientists and engineers have circulated through the insular political tech whisper mill, sparking curiosity as the startup prepares to emerge from stealth mode this spring.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Latest Stories