Some of us are old enough to remember science fiction movies from years ago.  The movies had machines recognizing the characters using seemingly incredible technologies. People being recognized by their voices? their faces? their eye retinas?  It all seemed too incredible to be possible.  Well, as we know the future is here.  One example is the increasing testing and use of  facial recognition technologies by commercial entities.  This is an important issue about which we all need to be informed.  And it’s an area in which the Federal Trade Commission is taking an active role.

Maneesha Mithal, Associate Director of the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, testified about facial recognition technologies on July 18th before the Privacy, Technology and the Law Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  She said that “While consumers may enjoy the benefits associated with advancements to these technologies …there are also concerns that the technologies may increase the risks to consumer privacy.”  For those reasons, she testified the FTC wants “…to understand how these technologies are being used, how they could be used, and how they will shape consumers’ commercial experiences.”  (www.ftc.gov/opa/2012/facial.shtm; “FTC Testifies on Commercial Uses of Facial Recognition Technologies.”).

The FTC will be issuing a report later this year with recommendations for suggested “best practices” for commercial entities that are using, or plan on using, facial recognition technologies. The report and its recommendations will suggest ways to use the facial recognition technologies “…in a manner that respects consumer privacy.”  Those “best practices” recommendations will  be based on the FTC’s December 2011 workshop on facial recognition technologies as well as comments and feedback received from private citizens, industry groups, trade groups, consumer and privacy advocates, Members of Congress and think tank representatives.

I will continue to follow this issue, as well as other technology developments, to help keep people informed.  We do benefit greatly from technology advancements and can make better use of, and decisions about, those benefits by having a more complete understanding of these technologies.