Microsoft is asking governments around the world to adopt legislation geared toward regulating the use of facial recognition technology.
The request was released Friday by the company’s president, Brad Smith. And while it may seem unusual that an oft-criticized tech company wants restraints on its own products, Smith voiced concern about the spread of powerful surveillance systems.
Bloomberg.com reports that in, Smith’s estimation, tech companies are partaking in a ‘commercial race to the bottom.’
That race, Microsoft suggests, should have a ‘floor of responsibility’—one which enables competition but outlaws the use of potent technologies to repress democracy or enhance state discrimination.
Smith’s call to action, says Bloomberg, ‘comes as China increasingly adopts facial recognition to monitor public spaces.’ The East Asian nation already has 200 million surveillance cameras, with that number expected to grow drastically within the coming years.
Even the Secret Service plans on installing facial recognition-enabled cameras around the White House, prompting concern from the American Civil Liberties Union.
ACLU responded to the announcement this week, saying such a program “crosses an important line by opening the door to the mass, suspicionless scrutiny of Americans on public sidewalks.”
“Face recognition is one of the most dangerous biometrics from a privacy standpoint because it can so easily be expanded and abused—including by being deployed on a mass scale without people’s knowledge or permission.”
China, writes Business Insider, has accrued a reputation for spying on its citizens and ranking their behavior in strange and novel ways. A “social credit system,” which was first announced in 2014, is meant to reinforce the idea that “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful.”
Chinese citizens who ruin their social credit rankings can purportedly risk losing travel privileges or be rendered ineligible for certain jobs. The system’s exact methodology is, according to Business Insider, ‘a secret.’ But what is known is that initiatives, whether local or regional in scope, rely upon aggregated data and surveillance notes.
Amazon has already attracted scrutiny for hawking its own facial recognition software to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Using the company’s Rekognition program, ICE officials could detect, track and detain undocumented immigrants identified in public places, like hospitals.
Representatives from AI Now—a technology group affiliated with New York University, which is comprised of public-sector employees and academics—say it’s important to maintain accountability.
“There is no longer a question of whether there are issues with accountability,” AI Now co-founder Meredith Whittaker told Bloomberg. “It’s what we do about it.”