Microsoft President Brad Smith has urged governments to regulate facial recognition technologies, citing potential risks to privacy and human rights of the users. The use of facial recognition technology is increasingly gaining attraction from different sectors, including security agencies, phone manufacturing companies, and retail businesses.
But like any other good thing, it also has its bad side. While Smith acknowledges that facial recognition technology has made technology products like phones more fancy by improving security features, he also says that it could have a ton of negatives, especially on human rights like privacy and freedom of expression.
“Advanced technology no longer stands apart from society; it is becoming deeply infused in our personal and professional lives. This means the potential uses of facial recognition are myriad. At an elementary level, you might use it to catalog and search your photos, but that’s just the beginning. Some users are already improving security for computer users, like recognizing your face instead of requiring a password to access many Windows laptops or iPhones, and in the future a device like an automated teller machine,” he said in a blog post on Friday.
“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,” he added.
“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.”
It is against that background that Smith said that governments should invest more resources in studying such technologies before they become widely adopted by the world, making them hard to regulate.
“The only effective way to manage the use of technology by a government is for the government proactively to manage this use itself. And if there are concerns about how a technology will be deployed more broadly across society, the only way to regulate this broad use is for the government to do so. This, in fact, is what we believe is needed today – a government initiative to regulate the proper use of facial recognition technology, informed first by a bipartisan and expert commission,” he said.
“While we appreciate that some people today are calling for tech companies to make these decisions – and we recognize a clear need for our own exercise of responsibility, as discussed further below – we believe this is an inadequate substitute for decision making by the public and its representatives in a democratic republic. We live in a nation of laws, and the government needs to play an important role in regulating facial recognition technology. As a general principle, it seems more sensible to ask an elected government to regulate companies than to ask unelected companies to regulate such a government.”
Brad Smith’s call comes at a time when facial recognition technology has come under withering scrutiny over some its equivocal features. For instance, it has been shown to be accurate with white people, but inaccurate in profiling people of color. Facial recognition technology is not the only emerging technology that has come under fire of recent; we also saw Google workers oppose the application of the company’s Artificial Intelligence tools in developing defense weapons.
Beyond government regulation, Smith says Microsoft and other tech companies should take more responsibility for their use of the technology. That includes efforts to act transparently, reduce bias, and deploy the technology slowly and cautiously. “If we move too fast with facial recognition, we may find that people’s fundamental rights are being broken,” he writes. Smith says Microsoft is working to reduce the racial disparities in its facial-analysis software.