Microsoft Says Facial Recognition Needs Government Regulation, Calls On Tech Companies To Be Ethical

With facial recognition technology being deployed at an increased pace, both in businesses, governments, and consumers, Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Office, Brad Smith, has called on tech companies in the industry to adhere to their ethical responsibilities, as well as calls for governments to create regulations, with Microsoft believing this will create a healthier industry in a competitive environment.

Discussed in Microsoft’s “On The Issues” blog, Brad Smith outlines his and Microsoft’s thoughts on the subject of facial recognition, and what needs to be addressed.

Smith looked at the positives that advancements in facial technology can bring, such as finding a missing child, or helping police identify a terrorist, or even assisting in daily living by using a smartphone and app to help a blind person know who just entered a meeting room.

Some emerging uses are both positive and potentially even profound. Imagine finding a young missing child by recognizing her as she is being walked down the street. Imagine helping the police to identify a terrorist bent on destruction as he walks into the arena where you’re attending a sporting event. Imagine a smartphone camera and app that tells a person who is blind the name of the individual who has just walked into a room to join a meeting.

The technology, as with most things, comes with its disadvantages however, and this is where Smith wants the government and tech companies to take action. Some of the issues that could happen, and in some cases already are happening, include:

  • Governments recording everywhere you walk
  • A database of people who attended a political rally
  • Stores sharing information about each shelf you look at and the products you buy, without asking

But other potential applications are more sobering. 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. 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.

The company believes that a “common regulatory framework” is needed. This will help create healthy industry, while ensuring ethical responsibilities are adhered to, and create a level playing field by which all companies know the rules they need to follow, this in turn would create stability for the industry. Outlining some of the issues that governments and companies alike need to tackle, Smith says:

  • Should law enforcement use of facial recognition be subject to human oversight and controls, including restrictions on the use of unaided facial recognition technology as evidence of an individual’s guilt or innocence of a crime?
  • Similarly, should we ensure there is civilian oversight and accountability for the use of facial recognition as part of governmental national security technology practices?
  • What types of legal measures can prevent use of facial recognition for racial profiling and other violations of rights while still permitting the beneficial uses of the technology?
  • Should use of facial recognition by public authorities or others be subject to minimum performance levels on accuracy?
  • Should the law require that retailers post visible notice of their use of facial recognition technology in public spaces?
  • Should the law require that companies obtain prior consent before collecting individuals’ images for facial recognition? If so, in what situations and places should this apply? And what is the appropriate way to ask for and obtain such consent?
  • Should we ensure that individuals have the right to know what photos have been collected and stored that have been identified with their names and faces?
  • Should we create processes that afford legal rights to individuals who believe they have been misidentified by a facial recognition system?

Microsoft’s issues with facial recognition technology were recently highlighted during the separation of immigrant children scandal, in which Microsoft was accused of helping with facial recognition technology for ICE. The company has said that its contract does not include facial recognition technology, and that it has not assisted in the separation of children from immigrant families.