Microsoft president calls for regulations on facial recognition technology

Microsoft president calls for regulations on facial recognition technology
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Microsoft president Brad Smith is calling for government regulations on facial recognition technology.

In a blog post on Friday, Smith didn’t call for specific rules to be instituted but did urge for the creation of a “bipartisan and expert commission” to draft policy recommendations.

“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,” Smith wrote. “Facial recognition will require the public and private sectors alike to step up – and to act.”

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Currently, facial recognition technology faces little regulation or federal oversight, with some critics raising alarms over its use by law enforcement and government agencies.

Smith’s call for government regulation of facial recognition technology comes as employees at several major tech companies have called on their corporate leadership to nix contracts with government agencies that use the technology.

At Microsoft, employees called on CEO Satya Nadella last month to drop the company's $19.4 million cloud computing contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for services including facial recognition technology.

Workers at Amazon similarly sent a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos last month calling on him to stop selling the company’s facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies around the country.

In his letter on Friday, Smith said that Microsoft had found that its contract with ICE did not actually involve providing facial recognition services as the company previously said it did and defended Microsoft’s contract with ICE.

“The work under the contract instead is supporting legacy email, calendar, messaging and document management workloads,” he wrote. “This type of IT work goes on in every government agency in the United States, and for that matter virtually every government, business and nonprofit institution in the world.”

Despite ceding the responsibility of ethical use of facial recognition technology to the government, Smith did outline several principles of the responsible development of AI.

In his letter, he called on companies to do more work in mitigating racial biases in facial recognition, which the technology has been plagued by.

“Even at a time of increasingly polarized politics, we have faith in our fundamental democratic institutions and values,” Smith wrote. “As in so many times in the past, we need to ensure that new inventions serve our democratic freedoms pursuant to the rule of law.”