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US Senator Calls on FBI, FTC to Conduct National Security, Privacy Investigation into Russia’s FaceApp

In a statement cited by media outlets, FaceApp has denied selling or sharing user data with third parties

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FaceApp is displayed on an iPhone, July 17, 2019, in New York. VOA

U.S. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer called on the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission to conduct a national security and privacy investigation into FaceApp, a face-editing photo app developed in Russia, in a letter sent on Wednesday.

The viral smartphone application, which has seen a new surge of popularity due to a filter that ages photos of users’ faces, requires “full and irrevocable access to their personal photos and data,” which could pose “national security and privacy risks for millions of U.S. citizens,” Schumer said in his letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and FTC Chairman Joe Simons.

The Democratic National Committee also sent out an alert to the party’s 2020 presidential candidates on Wednesday warning them against using the app, pointing to its Russian provenance.

In the email, seen by Reuters and first reported by CNN, DNC security chief Bob Lord also urged Democratic presidential campaigns to delete the app immediately if they or their staff had already used it. There is no evidence that FaceApp provides user data to the Russian government.

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Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y. (L) listens as Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaks at a news conference, July 11, 2019, Capitol Hill, Washington. VOA

Democrats have invested heavily in bolstering party cyber defenses after U.S. intelligence agencies determined that Russia used hacking as part of an effort to boost support for President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign. Russia has repeatedly denied those claims.

FaceApp, which was developed by Wireless Lab, a company based in St. Petersburg, says on its website that it has over 80 million active users. Its CEO, Yaroslav Goncharov, used to be an executive at Yandex, widely known as “Russia’s Google.”

The app, which was launched in 2017, made headlines in 2018 when it removed its ‘ethnicity filters’ after users condemned them as racist. More recently, it has faced scrutiny from the public over issues such as not clearly communicating that the app uploads images to the cloud rather than processing them locally on a user’s device.

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There is no evidence that FaceApp provides user data to the Russian government. Flickr

It is not clear how the artificial intelligence application retains the data of users or how users may ensure the deletion of their data after usage, Schumer said in the letter. Schumer said the photo editing app’s location in Russia raises questions about how FaceApp lets third parties, including foreign governments, have access to the data of American citizens.

ALSO READ: Online Games: What Risks Do They Pose To Children?

In a statement cited by media outlets, FaceApp has denied selling or sharing user data with third parties. “99% of users don’t log in; therefore, we don’t have access to any data that could identify a person,” the company said in a statement cited by TechCrunch, adding that most images are deleted from its servers within 48 hours of the upload date.

While the company’s research and development team is located in Russia, the user data is not transferred to Russia, according to the statement. (VOA)

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Lack Of Data Privacy Makes India Unprepared To Deal With Misuse of Technology

"Here law has not been able to protect the citizen," he said, adding that self-regulation of facial recognition will not be effective.

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In India, Duggal said, anybody can misuse this technology without fears of facing any adverse legal consequences. Pixabay

While the usage of facial recognition technology is growing across the world, the absence of any data protection and data privacy law in India makes the country ill-prepared to deal with the misuse of the technology, experts said on Friday.

“There is no legal mechanism to stop misuse of facial recognition technology in India,” Pavan Duggal, one of the nation’s top cyber law experts, told IANS, adding that the Information Technology Act does not specially deal with misuse of this technology.

There is also not any blanket ban on the use of this technology, perhaps because of the benefits that could accrue from the proper usage of the technology that dramatically cuts down the amount of time needed for identifying people or objects in photos and video.

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Some of the major technology giants including Microsoft and Amazon also agree that there is a need for governments to regulate this technology.Representational Image (Pixabay)

In April last year, for example, Delhi Police could identify almost 3,000 missing children in just four days during a trial of a facial recognition system.

While the benefits of the technology for law enforcement agencies in fighting crime and identifying missing people and also for the industry for business purposes cannot be denied, it is the misuse of the technology that can put the citizens of the country in trouble.

“The first casualty of the absence of regulatory framework for facial recognition technology is people’s right to privacy,” Duggal said.

“In India, there is not even any framework to regulate the storage of facial recognition data. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the situation and they are making such data available on the Dark Net,” he added.

Some of the major technology giants including Microsoft and Amazon also agree that there is a need for governments to regulate this technology.

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“Here law has not been able to protect the citizen,” he said, adding that self-regulation of facial recognition will not be effective. Pixabay

In a blog post in December 2018, Microsoft President Brad Smith pointed out that certain uses of this technology can increase the risk of biased decisions and outcomes, intrusions into people’s privacy and also encroach on democratic freedoms if the technology is used for mass surveillance.

While defending its own facial recognition technology Rekognition, saying there has been not a single report of misuse of the technology by law enforcement, Amazon Web Services (AWS) on Friday said it also supports the creation of a legislative framework covering facial recognition through video and photographic monitoring on public or commercial premises.

In India, Duggal said, anybody can misuse this technology without fears of facing any adverse legal consequences.

“Here law has not been able to protect the citizen,” he said, adding that self-regulation of facial recognition will not be effective.

Also Read: How Facebook Is Smartly Controlling The Political Ad Transparency In India

“The quicker we are able to provide effective legal mechanism to regulate facial recognition technology, better it is for the country and its citizens,” Duggal added. (IANS)