FTC Eyes Companies' Use Of Biometric Data

The Federal Trade Commission plans to vote next week on a policy statement regarding the collection and use of biometric data, the agency stated Thursday.

The proposed policy statement “will list examples of some of the practices the Commission will scrutinize in determining whether companies collecting and/or using or marketing biometric information technologies are complying with Section 5 of the FTC Act,” the agency stated.

The FTC didn't offer any other details on its plans, but Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya has previously proposed curbs on the use of facial-recognition technology.

Before his appointment to the FTC, Bedoya served as founding director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, which in 2016 published the influential report “Perpetual Line Up.” That report revealed that photos of more than 117 million U.S. adults were in databases accessible by law enforcement officials seeking to deploy facial-recognition software. That report also found that the police's use of facial-recognition technology will disproportionately affect African Americans, and that the technology may be least accurate for African Americans.

Currently, only a few states or cities regulate companies' ability to collect voiceprints, faceprints, retinal scans and other forms of biometric data.

Illinois, for instance, has a law prohibiting companies from compiling biometric data without people's explicit consent. That law, considered one of the strongest privacy measures in the country, allows state residents to sue for up to $5,000 per violation.

Washington state's new My Health, My Data Act also requires companies to obtain consent before collecting or sharing biometric data, and allows private lawsuits over violations.

Several other states recently enacted privacy laws that could affect the collection of biometric data, but those states generally don't allow consumers to sue over violations.

In New York City, revelations that Madison Square Garden Entertainment uses facial recognition to identify and ban lawyers who work for firms that are suing any of the company's venues -- including the Beacon Theater, Radio City and some restaurants -- continue to spark calls for new restrictions.

The city currently has a biometric privacy statute, but it only requires companies to post notices about their use of facial recognition technology, and prohibits companies from selling biometric identifiers. Last month, city lawmakers introduced a bill to outlaw the collection of biometrics, without people's consent.

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