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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at Multistakeholder Meeting on Commercial Facial Recognition Technology

February 06, 2014


Remarks of Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Privacy Multistakeholder Meeting on Commercial Facial Recognition Technology

February 6, 2014

—As Prepared for Delivery—

I am pleased to welcome this large group of stakeholders to the first meeting of NTIA’s privacy multistakeholder process regarding commercial use of facial recognition technology.  I would like to thank everyone and those who are watching the webcast. It’s good to see that nothing about the events of the last few months have diminished interest in privacy issues.

The President’s blueprint for consumer privacy is intended to improve consumers’ privacy protections and promote the continued growth of the digital economy.  As part of the blueprint, the White House directed NTIA to convene stakeholders to develop enforceable codes of conduct. The purpose of the code is to specify how the broad principles in the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights apply in specific business contexts.  Last year, stakeholders worked together to improve privacy disclosures on mobile devices.  In July, stakeholders reached an important milestone in their efforts, agreeing to put down the drafting pen and begin testing and implementing enhanced disclosures.  Since then, companies and trade associations have been testing the code with users.  At least one company has publicly rolled out enhanced disclosures based on the code. We expect that more will do so in the coming months, and we appreciate stakeholders’ work on this important issue.

This meeting begins a second process, in which stakeholders will examine privacy issues arising from commercial uses of facial recognition technology.  I think we all understand that facial recognition technology has the potential to improve services for consumers and support innovation by businesses.  However, the technology poses distinct consumer privacy challenges.  Digital images are increasingly available in the commercial context, and the importance of securing faceprints and ensuring consumers’ appropriate control over their data is clear.  And its is critical that privacy safeguards keep pace with innovation.

NTIA’s multistakeholder processes on consumer privacy are focused on developing voluntary, enforceable codes of conduct that can govern the relationships between companies and consumers.  Your task is to draft a code of conduct that reflects best practices for safeguarding privacy when companies use facial recognition.  We hope of course that companies will adopt this code of conduct to build trust with consumers and recognize that the Federal Trade Commission can ensure that companies keep their promises to consumers.

Now I’d like to review the expectations for these discussions especially those of you who did not participate in our previous multistakeholder effort.  NTIA is convening this process to encourage stakeholders to develop a code of conduct, but let me be clear: we will not impose its views concerning privacy or facial recognition on stakeholders.  We are not regulators.  We do not bring enforcement actions. Instead, we are in a unique position to encourage stakeholders to come together, cooperate, and reach agreement on important issues.  We will act as the neutral convener of a bottom-up process.  We will ask the group to work together, make decisions, and reach consensus.  This sort of process might take some of you outside your comfort zones.  We think the historical record demonstrates that bottom-up decision-making is a hallmark of the multistakeholder approach and has played a major role in the design and operation of the Internet.

I hope that today’s meeting is the first step in a process that will result in a code of conduct that applies the Privacy Blueprint’s seven principles to facial recognition technology.  However the purpose of today’s meeting is not to draft a code, or even to begin drafting.  Our goal today is to have a factual discussion that establishes a common level of technical understanding within the group. Today, we can start an affirmative, constructive dialogue about how facial recognition works, how it is used, and how privacy safeguards might be employed.  We can begin to explore the possible areas that might lead to future work and eventual consensus.

I am encouraged by the turnout today and the positive response from stakeholders. But we all need to recognize a group of this size poses real practical challenges. So the group will need to work together to determine the best way to maintain an open process while making progress on the substantive issues.  At the end of today’s meeting, we will discuss next steps as the group prepares for its next meeting on February 25.  But today we will have panels of expert stakeholders who are ready to share their knowledge of facial recognition technology. We have a lot to discuss, so let’s get started.