The company's president and chief legal officer Brad Smith admitted in a blog post that the separation of children from their asylum-seeker parents at the Mexican border was the catalyst for his call.
Microsoft recently came under fire from its employees and, later, from users of GitHub — which it now owns — over a post that said its technology was being used for facial recognition by the immigration authorities. Both groups demanded that Microsoft cancel its contract with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Smith denied this was the case, saying the contract in question, was only "supporting legacy email, calendar, messaging and document management workloads".
"These questions are not unique to Microsoft. They surfaced earlier this year at Google and other tech companies. In recent weeks, a group of Amazon employees has objected to its contract with ICE, while reiterating concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union about law enforcement use of facial recognition technology," Smith said.
"And Salesforce employees have raised the same issues related to immigration authorities and these agencies’ use of their products. Demands increasingly are surfacing for tech companies to limit the way government agencies use facial recognition and other technology."
Smith pointed to the resistance mounted by the car industry against regulation, adding "but today there is broad appreciation of the essential role that regulations have played in ensuring ubiquitous seat belts and air bags and greater fuel efficiency. The same is true for air safety, foods and pharmaceutical products".
He listed the following questions as being worthy of consideration when considering how to regulate facial recognition:
- "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?"
Given the increasing role that technology plays in the lives of ordinary Americans, Smith said what was needed was "a principled approach for facial recognition technology, embodied in law, that outlasts a single administration or the important political issues of a moment".