Microsoft Disagrees with EU’s Plan to Ban Facial Recognition

By Bill Toulas / January 21, 2020

Microsoft has expressed its concerns about EU’s considerations around facial recognition technologies. Last week, the BBC reported that the European Commission was very concerned with the implications of facial recognition tech and the consequences in society. Thus, the Commission was reportedly developing an 18-page document that would officially propose the banning of the tech in Europe for the next five years. That would be enough to consider and assess the impact of this new technology, identify the possible risks and develop mitigation and management measures.

This news was welcomed by Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai, who stated that temporary bans on facial-recognition technology make perfect sense at this time. Mr. Pichai spoke in a Brussels conference and said that governments and regulators should deal with this now rather than later, so following a waiting period approach to thinking how facial recognition should be used properly is a good idea.

On the other side though, Microsoft’s chief legal officer, Brad Smith, expressed his reluctance in supporting any type of use limitations in relation to the emerging tech at this moment. As he said, there are many benefits of facial recognition, and already, there are agencies using the tech to locate missing children and save people’s lives. Banning the tech for five years would result in the death of people who could have otherwise been saved. As there’s no alternative to use right now, Smith believes that we should continue using facial recognition and just improve the legislation and control measures that underpin it as we move forward.

At the same time that the debate about facial recognition technologies and applications sparks, police in the UK are moving forward and they’re doing it quickly. The South Wales police have decided to conduct a large-scale test of their NEC-made facial recognition tools last week outside the Cardiff stadium, scanning people in real-time and detaining anyone who was in their “blacklist”. Accuracy problems are only making discrimination and privacy violations even worse, and many are already talking about the police entering the undemocratic territory.

The UK is moving out of the EU anyway, so whatever legislation is going to be introduced to control how facial recognition is used is going to be their own matter soon. As for the rest of the Union, we hope that the Commission will indeed move forward with their proposal and that the tech will be banned until we are certain about how to make the most out of it without violating people’s fundamental rights. There are no benefits or positives that can overcome the negatives that derive from abusing these systems, and we first need to develop a context that will define what constitutes a proper application.

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