Microsoft unveils facial recognition principles, urges new laws

Microsoft warns that facial recognition technology will leave the world looking like George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 unless governments are curbed

  • Microsoft president Brad Smith said the firm was adopting new set of principles
  • He called on rivals to follow suit and for new laws to avert a dystopian future
  • Mr Smith made the announcement at a Brookings Institution speech 
  • He said it was urgent to place limits on facial recognition to avoid surveillance state 
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The president of Microsoft has warned that facial recognition technology will leave the world looking like George Orwell’s novel 1984 unless governments are curbed.

Microsoft president Brad Smith said the firm was adopting a set of principles for deployment of facial recognition technology, calling on industry rivals to follow suit and for new laws to avert a dystopian future.

Mr Smith made the announcement at a Brookings Institution speech and an accompanying blog post, saying it was urgent to begin placing limits on facial recognition to avoid a surveillance state. 

‘We must ensure that the year 2024 doesn’t look like a page from the novel ‘1984,” Mr Smith said.

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Microsoft president Brad Smith said the firm was adopting a set of principles for deployment of facial recognition technology, calling on industry rivals to follow suit and for new laws to avert a dystopian future 

‘An indispensable democratic principle has always been the tenet that no government is above the law. 

‘Today this requires that we ensure that governmental use of facial recognition technology remain subject to the rule of law. New legislation can put us on this path.’

Earlier this year, Microsoft said it saw a need for some kind of regulation of facial recognition, and on Thursday Mr Smith outlined principles that the company sees as important.

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He said the tech firm will press for legislation to be passed as early as 2019. 

He said that would require transparency, human review and privacy safeguards for any deployment of facial recognition.

Microsoft is set to begin adopting these principles itself, while urging other tech firms to do the same.

‘This is a global issue and the industry needs to address these issues head on,’ he said.


The president of Microsoft has warned that facial recognition technology will leave the world looking like George Orwell’s novel 1984 unless governments are curbed

Mr Smith said an important element would be to require ‘meaningful human review’ when facial recognition algorithms are used to make key decisions that can affect a person’s privacy, human rights or freedom, and to safeguard against discrimination or bias.

Additionally, he said new laws should set limits on police use of facial recognition, so it may be used only with a court order or in the case of an imminent threat.

‘We believe it’s important for governments in 2019 to start adopting laws to regulate this technology,’ he said.

‘The facial recognition genie, so to speak, is just emerging from the bottle.

‘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. 

‘By that time, these challenges will be much more difficult to bottle back up.’

HOW DOES FACIAL RECOGNITION TECHNOLOGY WORK?

Facial recognition software works by matching real time images to a previous photograph of a person. 

Each face has approximately 80 unique nodal points across the eyes, nose, cheeky and mouth which distinguish one person from another. 

A digital video camera measures the distance between various points on the human face, such as the width of the nose, depth of the eye sockets, distance between the eyes and shape of the jawline.


A smart surveillance system (pictured) that can scan 2 billion faces within seconds has been revealed in China. The system connects to millions of CCTV cameras and uses artificial intelligence to pick out targets

This produces a unique numerical code that can then be linked with a matching code gleaned from a previous photograph.

A facial recognition system used by officials in China connects to millions of CCTV cameras and uses artificial intelligence to pick out targets.

Experts believe that facial recognition technology will soon overtake fingerprint technology as the most effective way to identify people. 

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