Senators query CLEAR’s Health Pass product
26 May 2020 19:23 GMT

Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) are pressing CLEAR, a biometric identification company, for details regarding what privacy practices and precautions are being undertaken for Health Pass—a new product being marketed to businesses to screen their employees and consumers for the coronavirus.

According to CLEAR, Health Pass will allow consumers to verify their identity by taking a selfie before taking a health quiz to screen for possible coronavirus symptoms.

“While we appreciate CLEAR’s contribution to the discussion of safely reopening our nation’s economy, the use of facial recognition technology poses real privacy concerns. Though there are some potential benefits and expediencies, this technology can also be utilized widely and passively in such a way that eludes consumers’ awareness, permission, or the ability to opt out. If over or misused, facial recognition technology risks a state of undetectable, constant government surveillance that can track one’s movements and associations with organizations such as schools and places of worship,” the senators wrote in a letter to CLEAR CEO Caryn Seidman Becker.

To help protect the privacy of consumers, the senators requested information regarding what privacy and security steps CLEAR is taking, whether the company collects data—including personally identifiable information—concerning their customers, and whether any personally identifiable information is sold. Should CLEAR be collecting personal data, the senators asked whether customers have the ability to delete that data or prohibit future collection of personally-identifiable information. The lawmakers also inquired about alternative methods workers could use—such as QR codes—to identify themselves, and asked the CEO to explain why facial recognition technology is necessary to assessing the health of an individual.

In addition to privacy concerns, the prevalence of racial biases in facial recognition technology has raised serious concerns over the implications of its widespread use. A landmark federal study released in December 2019 found that Asian- and African-American people were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified by facial recognition than white men. To address these concerns, the senators requested that CLEAR explain what steps it is taking to assess biases in its technology, and asked if CLEAR has submitted its technology to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Face Recognition Vendor Test for evaluation.

Earlier this year, Senators Merkley and Booker introduced the Ethical Use of Facial Recognition Act. The legislation would institute a moratorium on all federal government use of the technology until a federal strategy to ensure that any future federal use of facial recognition is limited to responsible uses that protect privacy and promote public safety is created.

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