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Microsoft President says 2024 could become 1984 without biometrics regulation


Microsoft President Brad Smith has doubled down on the need to regulate facial recognition technology, warning an audience of internet industry stakeholders that 2024 could look like the book “1984” without the prompt implementation of safeguards to limit its use by both companies and governments, Recode reports.

Smith was speaking at tech conference Web Summit in Portugal, where he warned that technology could soon give governments the ability to track everyone everywhere, and log all actions, with “profound potential ramifications for even just the fundamental civil liberties on which democratic societies rely.”

“It potentially means every time you walk into a store, a retailer knows when you were in there last, what good you picked out, what you purchased,” Smith says. “I think even that frankly pales in comparison to what it could do to relationships between individuals and the state.”

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair joined Smith on stage, and backed his call for tech regulation.

“I don’t think the governments are yet equipped to understand [these issues], but I think they need to be,” Blair said. “It really is necessary for those in the tech world … to educate the policy makers as to what this means.”

Blair also suggested that the first political group to harness the issue into a narrative of beneficial use could represent the future of politics.

A blog post by Smith published in July compared facial recognition to other regulated technologies, such as pharmaceuticals and automobiles. The post was met with criticism, including from SensibleVision’s George Brostoff, who suggested the use cases, ownership, and storage of biometric data is the real issue. A group of U.S. legislators subsequently called on the Government Accountability Office to evaluate commercial and law enforcement uses of facial recognition technologies.

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