By 16 July 2018 | Categories: news


It’s not often that you hear companies ask for more regulation, but that’s exactly what Microsoft is doing. The company is concerned with computer-assisted facial recognition, something that many companies, including Facebook and Google, have implemented in their software.

In a blog post, Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, notes that facial recognition technology can be used for both good and evil, and it’s the latter that the company is concerned about. Citing the improvement in machine learning, computer vision, larger databases and the connecting ability of the cloud, Smith notes that facial recognition can be misused by private companies and public authorities.

“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,“ Smith says.

It is because of this negative usage that Microsoft is calling for government regulation in order to proactively manage the implications of facial recognition. “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 states.

With the power of Silicon Valley growing, it’s interesting to note that Smith believes that real power lies with government, stating that although the industry can regulate itself, it cannot hold up to legislation from democratically elected governments.

As far as legislation goes, Smith points to the following questions, amongst others, to align policy:

·         Should law enforcement use of facial recognition be subject to human oversight and controls, including restrictions on the use of unaided facial recognition technology as evidence of an individual’s guilt or innocence of a crime?

·         Similarly, should we ensure there is civilian oversight and accountability for the use of facial recognition as part of governmental national security technology practices?

·         What types of legal measures can prevent use of facial recognition for racial profiling and other violations of rights while still permitting the beneficial uses of the technology?

·         Should use of facial recognition by public authorities or others be subject to minimum performance levels on accuracy?

·         Should the law require that retailers post visible notice of their use of facial recognition technology in public spaces?

·         Should the law require that companies obtain prior consent before collecting individuals’ images for facial recognition? If so, in what situations and places should this apply? And what is the appropriate way to ask for and obtain such consent?

·         Should we ensure that individuals have the right to know what photos have been collected and stored that have been identified with their names and faces?

·         Should we create processes that afford legal rights to individuals who believe they have been misidentified by a facial recognition system?

As to how this process should go forward, Microsoft believes the US Congress should create a bipartisan expert commission to assess the best way to regulate the use of facial recognition technology in the United States.

Smith ends by what might just be a swipe at the Trump government, stating “a government agency that is doing something objectionable today may do something that is laudable tomorrow.” He notes, “We therefore need a principled approach for facial recognition technology, embodied in law, that outlasts a single administration or the important political issues of a moment.”

Microsoft has come under scrutiny recently, with employees criticizing the company’s involvement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Smith notes that the company has not worked with ICE in any facial recognition projects that separate kids and parents at the border, but rather in the upkeep of legacy systems.



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