Microsoft called for greater regulation of facial recognition technology in a blog post Friday, noting the broad dangers and ethical issues that come with improper use. President Brad Smith called for a bipartisan “expert commission” to consider regulations, making Microsoft the first large tech company to raise such concerns, according to The Guardian.
“It seems especially important to pursue thoughtful government regulation of facial recognition technology, given its broad societal ramifications and potential for abuse. Without a thoughtful approach, public authorities may rely on flawed or biased technological approaches to decide who to track, investigate or even arrest for a crime.”
The move follows criticism of Amazon last May, over the company’s marketing of facial recognition services to law enforcement. Civil liberties advocates raised concerns that the technology could exacerbate racial bias in law enforcement, and infringe on civil liberties in general. Such technology has been shown to identify white men more accurately than other populations.
Microsoft has also recently faced criticism over a contract with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to provide cloud-computing services, which they said did not involve facial recognition.
While Smith emphasized that there are positive prospects for use of the technology, like helping law enforcement find a missing child, he warned:
“Imagine a government tracking everywhere you walked over the past month without your 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.”
Despite calling for strong government regulation, he said technology companies themselves still have a responsibility to use the technology ethically. He said Microsoft had declined some customer requests to use the technology in ways that constitute “human rights risks.”
Currently, there are few restrictions on the use of facial recognition technology, by either the public or private sector. In other parts of the world, such as China, the technology is already used frequently, for functions like tracking down a criminal in public places.
“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.”