Microsoft asks Congress to regulate facial recognition before it's too late

The cameras are watching you. Who'll watch the cameras?

Marrian Zhou Staff Reporter
Marrian Zhou is a Beijing-born Californian living in New York City. She joined CNET as a staff reporter upon graduation from Columbia Journalism School. When Marrian is not reporting, she is probably binge watching, playing saxophone or eating hot pot.
Marrian Zhou
2 min read
Facial recognition of Caucasian businessman

A Microsoft exec calls on lawmakers to regulate facial recognition.

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Lawmakers, it's time to regulate facial recognition technology, a top Microsoft executive says.

Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer, on Friday said in a blog post that facial recognition tech needs "thoughtful" government oversight to prevent it abuses by powerful entities like businesses and public authorities.

Aided immensely by advances in artificial intelligence and a proliferation of cameras, the technology is increasingly capable of watching and tracking you and what you're doing. While that may be a convenience for some -- for instance, powering Face Unlock on the iPhone X -- it also brings the potential for unwanted surveillance and a loss of privacy.

Consider just one recent controversy: Amazon's sale of its facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies caused much anguish inside and outside the company.

"Advanced technology [is] becoming deeply infused in our personal and professional lives. This means the potential uses of facial recognition are myriad," wrote Smith. "The only effective way to manage the use of technology by a government is for the government proactively to manage this use itself."

Some of the issues he brought up include the extent of law enforcement's use of facial recognition technology, the legal boundaries of facial profiling, public notice of when businesses use this tech, individuals' right of information, procedures when misidentification happens and more. Smith also recommended appointing bipartisan expert commissions to address the issues before legislatures take action.

Smith also called on Silicon Valley leaders to commit to ethical practices in connection with computer vision and to try to make the application of this technology transparent. Smith also advised caution when deploying facial recognition services.

"In the United States, this is a national issue that requires national leadership by our elected representatives," wrote Smith. "Given the global nature of the technology itself, there likely will also be a growing need for interaction and even coordination between national regulators across borders."

Microsoft declined to comment beyond Smith's post.

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