In a report from CNN, the president of Microsoft Brad Smith announced that new laws are significant considering that the facial recognition software has “broad societal ramifications and potential for abuse.” It is worth noting that the tech company is among the few that helped push the said technology forward. Given the said possibilities, Microsoft feels the need for the U.S. government to enact a regulation that should control the use of this technology.
Smith also urged lawmakers to come up with “a government initiative” that is meant to control the proper use of the facial recognition technology. For this to become a possibility, it should be “informed by a bipartisan and expert commission.”
Facial recognition’s premise is pretty much straightforward. It gives computers the ability to identify – or even verify – a person’s face from a single photo or when a camera is used. Since its conception, its popularity has grown rapidly while its development has been quite massive.
The technology is being used by giant tech companies, with Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft being the leaders. Not only are they developing facial recognition systems alongside their products or services, they are also selling this system. In fact, the technology is already a favorite across a wide range of industries, from private business entities (e.g. casinos, hotels, restaurants, etc.) to law enforcement to social media.
Supporters suggest that the technology is not only about improving the safety of companies and customers. It can also help authorities track down criminals and even find missing individuals like children. Civil right groups, on the other hand, warn that it could infringe on privacy and make illegal surveillance and monitoring a possibility. They added that there is always a room for error, as the still-developing technology could somehow result in false identifications.
It holds true that the accuracy of the facial recognition software varies greatly. It significantly affects women and individuals of color, all of whom are prone to being identified with less accuracy.
Smith, in his blog post, adds that the system raises a critical question: “What role do we want this type of technology to play in everyday society?”
His call for the government body to regulate the technology comes as tech companies receive criticisms over how they handle and share customer data. This also includes their “questionable” cooperation with several government agencies.
Just last month, Microsoft received backlash for its working relationship with the U.S. government and Customs Enforcement. ICE had been enforcing president Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” in terms of immigration policy, which, in turn, separated children from their parents when crossing the border illegally. The administration, however, has since abandoned the policy.
In January, the company wrote a blog post detailing ICE’s use of the cloud technology Azure, stating that it could help expedite facial recognition and identification. After it received questions about whether its technology was used by ICE agents in order to carry out the infamous border separations, Microsoft released a statement calling the policy “abusive” and “cruel.”
In his post, Smith said that Microsoft is not fond of the said policy. He even confirmed that its contract with ICE does not involve the facial recognition technology.
Like Microsoft, Amazon also faced the same criticisms from its own shareholders and civil rights groups. These were all due to local police forcing the company to use Rekognition – Amazon’s very own face identifying software which can identify over 100 people in just one photo.
Some of the company’s shareholders co-authored the letter and pressured Amazon to cease the selling of the software to the government. They said that it was helping in mass surveillance and posed a great threat to privacy rights.