Microsoft President Brad Smith paints an Orwellian picture of the future in his latest call for government regulation of facial-recognition technology.
Smart camera systems could follow us constantly, tracking our whereabouts and activities for companies and governments to scrutinize. “It could follow anyone anywhere, or for that matter, everyone everywhere,” Smith wrote in a recent blog.
He also pointed out the positives — and possible abuses of — facial-recognition technology.
It’s not too late to put safeguards in place before that happens in the U.S., he argued. “We must ensure that the year 2024 doesn’t look like a page from the novel ‘1984,’ ” he wrote, referring to George Orwell’s dystopian novel.
Smith outlined the company’s recommendations for government regulation and tech-company policies, which include a law that would inform consumers when facial-recognition technology is being used in a public place.
Studies have found that several facial-recognition systems make more errors when identifying women and people of color than white men. Microsoft and others have vowed to work on the problem, and Microsoft notes that its own Face API system has become more accurate at identifying people.
Smith also recommended tech companies be required to publish documents that clearly explain their technology’s capabilities and limitations, allow third-party groups to independently test the systems, and require governments to obtain court orders in many cases before persistently monitoring people with facial-recognition technology.
Civil liberties groups said Smith did not go far enough.
“Microsoft gets some things right, but unfortunately the protections they’re suggesting are not sufficient,” said Shankar Narayan, who directs the technology and liberty project at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.
Narayan called for a moratorium on tech companies selling facial-recognition technology to government and law-enforcement agencies. Even operating perfectly, he said, the technology can be used to racially profile and discriminate against groups of people.
Adam Schwartz, a lawyer with digital privacy organization Electronic Frontier Foundation, also said consumers and shoppers should have to actively opt in to the technology, not simply be informed they are being watched when they enter public places, such as a grocery store.