Microsoft urges government to regulate facial recognition technology

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Although Microsoft has helped advance and innovate facial recognition tools, it is now recommending that the government introduces official regulation. The company’s President Brad Smith said that new legislation is imperative considering the software’s "broad societal ramifications and potential for abuse."

The software can be used as a powerful police tool to track and analyse people using a database of millions of faces. Despite its potential, the technology has the capacity to be exploited by governments seeking to introduce mass surveillance.

Smith warned lawmakers to implement "a government initiative to regulate the proper use of facial recognition technology, informed first by a bipartisan and expert commission." Tech giants Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft are among the companies currently developing the powerful tool.

Microsoft’s blog post follows the news that the Orlando Police Department has dropped its pilot of Amazon’s facial recognition program, Rekognition, amid public outcry. The software has been widely criticised since its launch two years ago, but it could be reinstated in the future.

Supporters assert that the tool improves safety for companies and customers, while protestors insist that the software has the capacity to be abused by law enforcement agencies. Smith declared that it also “raises issues that go to the heart of fundamental human rights protections like privacy and freedom of expression.”

Some objectors have highlighted that the technology is flawed, and indeed the accuracy of the tech varies dramatically. According to MIT research, women and people of colour are identified with less precision.

Microsoft has also urged the Trump administration to utilise its cloud technology Azure to end the cruel separation of families at the border. There are rumours regarding Microsoft’s involvement in the controversy, but the company released a statement condemning the policy as “cruel” and “abusive.”

Facebook has also come under fire for its use of facial recognition on photos without the consent of the user. The social media giant is now facing a class-action lawsuit, amongst many other controversies regarding privacy laws.

Smith concluded that businesses have a duty to regulate their technological innovations, to ensure that they are implemented in  "a manner consistent with broadly held societal values." He added that "there are many markets where thoughtful regulation contributes to a healthier dynamic for consumers and producers alike."

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