Facial recognition has many beneficial uses for society, but it also has the potential to be misused and abused. Microsoft recognizes this and is laying out the steps it is taking to ensure facial recognition technology is used for good, as well as its recommendations to the government and the technology industry.

“Advanced technology no longer stands apart from society; it is becoming deeply infused in our personal and professional lives. This means the potential uses of facial recognition are myriad,” wrote Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, in a post.

For example, a missing child could be located by recognizing them as they walk down a street. On the other side, a government could track you everywhere you go without your knowledge or permission, Smith explained.

“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. 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,” wrote Smith.

Microsoft has created the following list of questions that should be addressed by government regulation:

  • “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?”

Microsoft believes that these issues should be addressed by elected representatives. The company says it recognizes that many will question whether members of Congress will have the technical expertise to address these issues, but Microsoft has stated that they believe Congress will be able to address these issues effectively.

Microsoft also wants Congress to create a bipartisan commission building on recent work by academics and work done in the public and private sections to address the issues. The commission would advise Congress on what types of new laws and regulations are necessary.

The company also believes that the technology sector should be responsible for regulation. Microsoft feels that there are still a lot of questions that need answers, but that the following conclusions have been made: The technology sector needs to continue to work to reduce the risk of bias in facial recognition. “No one benefits from the deployment of immature facial recognition technology that has greater error rates for women and people of color,” said Smith.

Microsoft feels that there needs to be a principled and transparent approach in developing and applying facial recognition technology. The company stated that moving forward it is committed to establishing a transparent set of principles for facial recognition technology.

In addition, it believes the deployment of facial technology needs to slow down. “‘Move fast and break things’ became something of a mantra in Silicon Valley earlier this decade. But if we move too fast with facial recognition, we may find that people’s fundamental rights are being broken,” said Smith.

Finally, Microsoft says it is committed to participating in a full and responsible way during policy deliberations related to facial recognition. “Government officials, civil liberties organizations and the broader public can only appreciate the full implications of new technical trends if those of us who create this technology do a good job of sharing information with them,” said Smith.

“Microsoft is absolutely right that face recognition use by law enforcement must be fully analyzed and debated. Congress should take immediate action to put the brakes on this technology with a moratorium on its use by government, given that it has not been fully debated and its use has never been explicitly authorized. And companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and others should be heeding the calls from the public, employees, and shareholders to stop selling face surveillance technology to governments,” Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the ACLU said in a statement.