Microsoft calls for facial recognition technology rules given 'potential for abuse'
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Microsoft has called for facial recognition technology to be regulated by government, with for laws governing its acceptable uses.
In a blog post on the company’s website on Friday, Microsoft president Brad Smith called for a congressional bipartisan “expert commission” to look into regulating the technology in the US.
“It seems especially important to pursue thoughtful government regulation of facial recognition technology, given its broad societal ramifications and potential for abuse,” he wrote. “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.”
Microsoft is the first big tech company to raise serious alarms about an increasingly sought-after technology for recognising a person’s face from a photo or through a camera.
In May, US civil liberties groups had called on Amazon to stop offering facial recognition services to governments, warning that the software could be used to unfairly target immigrants and people of colour.
While Smith called some uses for the technology positive and “potentially even profound” – such as finding a missing child or identifying a terrorist – he said other potential applications were “sobering”.
“Imagine a government tracking everywhere you walked over the past month without your permission or knowledge,” he wrote. “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.”
Smith said the need for government action “does not absolve technology companies of our own ethical responsibilities”.
“We recognise that one of the difficult issues we’ll need to address is the distinction between the development of our facial recognition services and the use of our broader IT infrastructure by third parties that build and deploy their own facial recognition technology,” he wrote.
He said Microsoft, which supplies face recognition to some businesses, has already rejected some customers’ requests to deploy the technology in situations involving “human rights risks”. A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to provide more details about what opportunities the company has passed over because of ethical concerns.
Smith also defended the company’s contract with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, saying it did not involve face recognition.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report
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