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House committee examines privacy standards for biometric tech

Charles H. Romine, director of the Information Technology Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, told a House committee Wednesday the agency is prioritizing research that protects privacy in the use of biometrics. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/528fe8ef26343f0b6dd304fed80cf579/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Charles H. Romine, director of the Information Technology Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, told a House committee Wednesday the agency is prioritizing research that protects privacy in the use of biometrics. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

June 29 (UPI) -- A House committee Wednesday heard testimony about the potential impact of biometric technologies on privacy rights as legislators consider laws to balance the benefits with potential drawbacks.

The America Competes Act aims to "future-proof the government's definitions and standards for biometric identification systems and invest in privacy-enhancing technologies," said Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight.

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Committee ranking member Rep. Jay Obernolte, R-Calif., said biometrics like facial recognition -- in broad use to unlock smartphones -- have benefits, but also pose privacy risks.

"Biometrics bring a lot of benefits to our lives and we want to make sure that we continue to allow those benefits while protecting the privacy of the people that rely on biometrics," Obernolte said.

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Besides facial recognition, the technology can use fingerprints, iris scans and voice recognition to identify a person.

A better understanding of the technology and carefully developed safeguards and standards will help develop biometrics "in a way that provides safety for people's privacy without stifling the innovation that's going to lead to future breakthroughs and benefits to society," he said.

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A recent review of laws in the United Kingdom called for the government to come up with new regulations for the use of biometric technologies. Civil and human rights groups there have challenged police use of live facial recognition technology.

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Charles Romine of the U.S. Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology said the agency is working on privacy standards for biometrics.

"Privacy plays a critical role in safeguarding fundamental values such as human autonomy and dignity, as well as civil rights and civil liberties," Romine said. "NIST has prioritized research and the creation of frameworks, guidance, tools and standards that protect privacy."

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