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Microsoft calls for government regulation of facial recognition technology


Microsoft has joined a growing chorus of voices calling for increased regulation of facial recognition, with President Bradford L. Smith comparing the technology to pharmaceuticals and cars in a lengthy blog post.

“Facial recognition technology raises issues that go to the heart of fundamental human rights protections like privacy and freedom of expression,” writes Smith. “These issues heighten responsibility for tech companies that create these products. In our view, they also call for thoughtful government regulation and for the development of norms around acceptable uses. 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.”

Noting the controversy around the use of Microsoft’s technology by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others, Smith argues that the time has come for governments to provide legal and regulatory guidance to technology companies. Those companies themselves bear a set of responsibilities, Smith says, including to reduce the bias present in algorithms, and to take a principled and transparent approach to applying facial recognition. The post also says private sector stakeholders should depart from Silicon Valley’s “Move fast and break things” mantra to avoid causing irreparable harm, and participate in public policy discussions around the issue.

Microsoft has recently retrained its facial recognition AI to reduce bias, and launched a bias-detection tool for AI developers.

Smith also points out the company’s past support for privacy legislation in the U.S. in 2005 and for GDPR, and makes recommendations about how the new regulation should be arrived at.

“There will always be debates about the details, and the details matter greatly,” Smith notes. “But a world with vigorous regulation of products that are useful but potentially troubling is better than a world devoid of legal standards.”

Smith suggests eight pertinent questions as a sort of starter list of the issues involved with facial recognition, and says Congress should appoint a bipartisan expert commission to recommend legislation.

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