Because of the complexity of facial recognition, it would seem counter-intuitive that computers could differentiate between thousands of faces with fairly subtle differences. But the science of facial recognition has advanced and is now employed by security systems, police departments and other applications where identity is a critical factor.
And while facial recognition has its limitations -- photos of the two marathon bombing suspects were compared with databases without a match even though they were later found in those databases -- many people are worried about privacy implications as the technology advances. Developments like Facebook's use of facial recognition to identify people in photographs and its use by law enforcement have spurred concern. Police officers in Chula Vista Calif., for example, take photos of people and run them through a database to see if they are wanted.
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Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota has pressed Facebook on the privacy implications of facial recognition, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will meet on Feb. 6 to develop a voluntary code of conduct that specifies how the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights applies to facial recognition technology in a commercial context.
"My hope is that it will set out basic rules of the road that industry leaders can follow -- and Congress can use as a roadmap for a 21st Century privacy law," Franken told The Hill.