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HL Chronicle of Data Protection Privacy & Information Security News & Trends
Posted in Consumer Privacy, News & Events

Privacy a Top Agenda Item for FTC, NTIA Entering 2014

With the new year fast approaching, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), a bureau within the Department of Commerce, recently announced a number of privacy initiatives for 2014 that will break new ground for both agencies and will impact a wide array of industries. 

On December 2, 2013, the FTC announced that it will host a series of seminars to examine the privacy implications of three new areas of technology: mobile device tracking; alternative scoring products; and consumer-generated and controlled health data.  The seminar on mobile device tracking will examine the practice of tracking consumers’ movements throughout retail stores by identifying signals emitted by their mobile devices.  The alternative scoring products seminar will focus on the use of data compiled by information brokers to predict customer behavior.  And the consumer-generated and controlled health data seminar will look at the privacy concerns that arise with the increasing use of health apps, online health tools, and connected personal fitness devices.  In each of these areas the FTC will seek to understand the extent to which consumers are tracked, whether notice and choice are provided, and how this data is secured.  The seminars will include presentations by academics, business representatives, and consumer advocates.  After each seminar, FTC staff will issue a report.

On December 3, 2013, NTIA launched a new privacy multistakeholder process on the commercial use of facial recognition technology.  In its announcement, the NTIA noted three distinct consumer privacy challenges related to facial recognition technology: (1) securing sensitive biometric data, (2) providing transparency when facial recognition systems are implemented in public places, and (3) developing meaningful controls for consumers.  Like the multistakeholder process the NTIA convened last year on mobile application transparency, the goal of these meetings is to develop a code of conduct for industry to adopt to improve the privacy and data security practices surrounding facial recognition systems.

Together, these announcements reveal that federal regulators are working hard to stay ahead of the privacy issues associated with new technologies.  If implemented, NTIA’s codes of conduct will set forth a blueprint for addressing privacy concerns with facial recognition technology.  Additionally, the FTC’s seminars likely will lay the groundwork for future enforcement actions.

Companies that use facial recognition technology should closely monitor, and consider contributing to, NTIA’s ongoing process.  Companies also may wish to submit comments to the FTC on its privacy seminars.  For more information on the FTC’s comment process, click here.

The FTC seminars on mobile device tracking and alternative scoring products are scheduled for February 19 and March 19, respectively; the health data seminar is yet to be scheduled.  The first NTIA multistakeholder meeting is scheduled for February 6; additional meetings will follow throughout the spring and summer.  Both the FTC and NTIA meetings will be open to the public.

Jared Bomberg, an associate in our Washington, DC office, contributed to this entry.