Microsoft President Brad Smith on Friday called for greater government oversight and corporate responsibility regarding the growing application of facial recognition technology. According to Microsoft, the more powerful a tool, the greater benefit or damage it can cause. This is time with regards to the increasing proliferation of facial recognition technology and the attendant concerns over potential abuse.
Facial technology refers to the ability of a computer to recognize people’s faces from a photo or through a camera. This technology can catalog photos, and can potentially be misused and abused by private companies and public authorities alike.
“Facial recognition technology raises issues that go to the heart of fundamental human rights protections like privacy and freedom of expression,” said Smith in a blog post.
“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.”
Facial recognition technology has its benefits, no doubt, but the concern here is that the potential negative uses may outweigh the positive if the application of the technology is not checked.
Also, the technology is very far from perfect, despite the advancement. As reported widely in recent months, biases have been found in the performance of several fielded face recognition technologies. The technologies worked more accurately for white men than for white women and were more accurate in identifying persons with lighter complexions than people of color.
In recent weeks, a group of Amazon employees objected to its contract with ICE, while reiterating concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) about law enforcement use of facial recognition technology.
Salesforce employees have raised the same issues related to immigration authorities and these agencies’ use of their products. Demands increasingly are surfacing for tech companies to limit the way government agencies use facial recognition and other technology.
According to Smith, 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.