By: Will Garnett

Shocked 12 year old on computer unsupervised

News of multiple governmental organizations using facial recognition technology has sparked a conversation about the protection of children online. The Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) was enacted in 1998 to protect children using the internet.[1] The act was meant for force websites to take certain precautions when knowingly interacting with individuals under the age of 13, the specifics of those precaution were left to the FTC for regulation.[2] The FTC’s COPPA rules has been revised since its inception, but they have maintained organized standards for websites to follow.[3] These rules require parental consent before personal information about the child can be collected and disseminated.[4] The rules also ensure that once a child’s information is collected properly, it is only transmitted to other entities with the capability of protecting that information.[5] Children currently have access to a lot of different technology which could collect their information, such as mobile games, apps, and social networking sites. Further, as technology creeps into previously unknown domains, COPPA regulations to protect children has become more important.

In January, multiple news outlets contained reports of governmental organizations using facial recognition software as part of their operations.[6] One entity that seems to be favorite of the government is a company called Clearview AI. This company has been selling facial recognition data to over 600 law enforcement agencies in the country.[7] The idea behind using facial recognition data is that images or criminals and other people of interest could be captured innocuously and could later be used to find and apprehend those individuals after an incident. But, Clearview AI has a database of over three billion photos, collected from the las year alone.[8] This company has been able to amass this hefty war chest of photos by craping various parts of the internet for photos, particularly social media platforms.[9] With the current popularity of social media platforms among teens and children, there has been a rise in skepticism about the data collection being done by companies like Clearview AI. With a simple swipe of the finger, people can access Tik Tok videos of children (certainly some under the age of 13) performing fun dances and lip syncing to hit songs. How much of that easy to access information is also being scraped by facial recognition technology and being stored for later use? Further, suppose one believes that the simple capturing of facial images of children is innocuous, consider what other personal information is being captured through videos on apps like Tik Tok. Scraping social media platforms can produce very personal information about someone, such as their full name, home location, current location, and even the contents of their bedroom.

Concern over the private collection and government’s use of facial recognition data has risen to the highest levels of power. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts recently sent a letter with a series of questions to Clearview AI to address this very problem.[10] The Senator’s letter raised even more serious questions about personal information collection, such as questions about biometric data that can be collected with facial recognition technology. His letter also addressed how the use of this technology could potentially violate COPPA regulations.[11] Although the alarm-bell has been rung in one branch of the government, there are forces within the FTC which already see COPPA regulations as too cumbersome and far reaching.[12] One FTC board member dissented to the 2012 update of the regulations, stating that they would implicate too many websites.[13] While the government remains split on decisions about regulation and the implementation of new technology, children (those least able to protect themselves) remain in harm’s way. But, what’s new?

[1] See 15 U.S.C §§ 6501-6506 (2019).

[2] See id.

[3] See 16 C.F.R § 312 (2019).

[4] See id.

[5] See id.

[6] See Chris Mills Rodrigo, Democratic senator presses facial recognition company after reports of law enforcement collaboration, The Hill (Jan. 23, 2019),

[7] See id.

[8] See id.

[9] See id.

[10] See id.

[11] See id.

[12] See id.

[13] See 5 Computer Law §28.05 (2019).

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