Microsoft calls for govt regulation of facial recognition

Facial recognition technology raises privacy, justice issues, says Microsoft President Brad Smith

Facial recognition technology needs regulation based on expert consultation, says Smith.
Facial recognition technology needs regulation based on expert consultation, says Smith.

Microsoft is calling for government intervention to regulate facial recognition technology.

In a blog post, Microsoft president Brad Smith said that as the technology improves and becomes more prevalent, so there are going concerns about its misuse, which should not be left to technology companies to manage.

Smith pointed out intrusive use of facial recognition by government or law enforcement, breaches of privacy and racial bias in the technology as areas that should be addressed.


The company's concerns around facial recognition were heightened by recent false allegations that Microsoft facial recognition technology was being used by US immigration authorities to separate migrants from their children. This led to a dialogue across the company on how facial recognition technology should be used.

In the blog post, Smith wrote: "All tools can be used for good or ill... The last few months have brought this into stark relief when it comes to computer-assisted facial recognition. This technology can catalogue your photos, help reunite families or potentially be misused and abused by private companies and public authorities alike.

"Facial recognition technology raises issues that go to the heart of fundamental human rights protections like privacy and freedom of expression. These issues heighten responsibility for tech companies that create these products. In our view, they also call for thoughtful government regulation and for the development of norms around acceptable uses."

Microsoft believes that the US government should establish an expert, bipartisan commission to look at the issues and make recommendations. Smith said government must proactively manage the use of technology, and regulate its proper use.

Among the areas for consideration are the need for human oversight of the technology, particularly in relation to whether facial recognition alone can be used to decide innocence or guilt in a criminal case; racial bias or the use of the technology for racial profiling; government accountability for the technology; minimum accuracy requirements; and the need for privacy protection and consent procedures for companies to collect facial recognition data.

"In a democratic republic, there is no substitute for decision making by our elected representatives regarding the issues that require the balancing of public safety with the essence of our democratic freedoms. Facial recognition will require the public and private sectors alike to step up - and to act," Smith said.

"The only effective way to manage the use of technology by a government is for the government proactively to manage this use itself. And if there are concerns about how a technology will be deployed more broadly across society, the only way to regulate this broad use is for the government to do so. This in fact is what we believe is needed today - a government initiative to regulate the proper use of facial recognition technology, informed first by a bipartisan and expert commission."

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