Microsoft President Brad Smith is urging lawmakers to regulate facial recognition technology and to enact laws governing its acceptable uses. “We believe Congress should create a bipartisan expert commission to assess the best way to regulate the use of facial recognition technology in the United States,” Smith wrote in a blog post.
Microsoft and competing tech giants such as Amazon, Apple and Google are leading developers of facial recognition systems. The technology is being used across a range of industries, from private businesses like hotels and casinos, to social media and law enforcement. Proponents of the technology argue the software improves safety for companies and customers and can help law enforcement track down criminals or find missing children. Civil rights groups warn it can infringe on privacy and allow for illegal surveillance and monitoring.
In May, civil liberties groups in the U.S. called on Amazon to stop offering facial recognition services to governments, warning that the software could be used to target immigrants and people of color unfairly. Smith said while Microsoft appreciates the calls for tech companies to make decisions over facial recognition, it is more sensible to ask an elected government to oversee the technology. “Facial recognition technology raises issues that go to the heart of fundamental human rights protections like privacy and freedom of expression,” he wrote.
Smith asked the public to consider the sobering potential for a government to track a citizen wherever they walked over, say, the past month without their permission or knowledge.
“Imagine a database of everyone who attended a political rally that constitutes the very essence of free speech. Imagine the stores of a shopping mall using facial recognition to share information with each other about each shelf that you browse and product you buy, without asking you first. This has long been the stuff of science fiction and popular movies — like “Minority Report,” “Enemy of the State” and even “1984” — but now it’s on the verge of becoming possible,” he wrote.
Microsoft is committed to establishing a transparent set of principles for facial recognition technology that it will share with the public, according to Smith. This is intended to build on the company’s broader commitment to design products and operate services consistent with the United Nation’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, he wrote. “The need for government leadership does not absolve technology companies of our own ethical responsibilities. Given the importance and breadth of facial recognition issues, we at Microsoft and throughout the tech sector have a responsibility to ensure that this technology is human-centered and developed in a manner consistent with broadly held societal values,” Smith wrote.