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Stopping facial recognition tech will be cruel: Microsoft chief

Agency | February 04, 2019 12:04 PM

SAN FRANCISCO: Microsoft President Brad Smith has shot down calls to stop selling facial recognition tech to governments, saying the move would be "cruel" as it could hamper good work such as diagnosing rare diseases.

According to a report in Business Insider late Sunday, Smith said the move would be "cruel in the humanitarian effect".

This came after last month over 85 human rights groups wrote to Microsoft, Amazon, and Google, demanding the companies should stop selling facial recognition software to the governments as it would lead to surveillance.

"I do not understand an argument that companies should avoid all licensing to any government agency for any purpose whatsoever.

"A sweeping ban on all government use clearly goes too far and risks being cruel in its humanitarian effect," Smith, also Microsoft's Chief Legal Officer, was quoted as saying.

In a blog post in December, Smith had said that given the potential for abuse of the fast advancing facial recognition technology, governments across the world need to start adopting laws to regulate this technology.

"Unless we act, we risk waking up five years from now to find that facial recognition services have spread in ways that exacerbate societal issues," Smith wrote.

"The time for action has arrived," he said, adding that the industry must also exercise restraint while using this technology.

Speaking of the benefits of the technology, the Microsoft President mentioned that police in New Delhi recently trialled facial recognition technology and identified almost 3,000 missing children in four days.

Similarly, historians in the US have used the technology to identify the portraits of unknown soldiers in Civil War photographs taken in the 1860s.

"Researchers successfully used facial recognition software to diagnose a rare, genetic disease in Africans, Asians and Latin Americans," he added.

However, he did warn that widespread use of this technology can lead to new intrusions into people's privacy.

"The use of facial recognition technology by a government for mass surveillance can encroach on democratic freedoms," Smith added.

Microsoft is one of several companies playing a leading role in developing facial recognition technology.

The company, Smith said, would start adopting new principles to manage the issues surrounding facial recognition technology in the first quarter of 2019.

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