Recent developments involving the use of facial recognition technology have raised privacy concerns in the United States, Europe and Canada. As we reported earlier this month, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (“EPIC”) and several other consumer privacy advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Facebook for its use of facial recognition technology. According to EPIC’s complaint, Facebook’s Tag Suggestions feature recognizes individuals’ faces based on photographs already on Facebook, then suggests that users “confirm Facebook’s identification of facial images in user photos” when they upload new photos to their Facebook profiles.
In Europe, the Article 29 Working Party has announced that it is investigating Facebook’s Tag Suggestions technology to determine whether it violates EU data protection laws. Gerard Lommel, a member of the Article 29 Working Party, stated that “[t]ags of people on pictures should only happen based on people’s prior consent and it can’t be activated by default.” The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (“ICO”) is also discussing Facebook’s facial recognition technology with the company. Greg Jones, a spokesman for the ICO, stated that “[t]he privacy issues that this new software might raise are obvious.”
In Canada, various privacy and civil liberties organizations are expressing concern about the potential use of facial recognition technology by Vancouver police in connection with the identification of individuals who rioted and committed crimes following the Vancouver Canucks’ June 15, 2011 loss in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Although British Columbia’s Privacy Commissioner has supported this use of facial recognition technology, the policy director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association stated that use of facial recognition technology “in identifying people in public spaces adds a whole new level of pervasive surveillance to our culture and our society.”