How Litigation Can Guide Big Tech: Facial Recognition Bill

Facial Recognition Bill

The world as we know it today is rapidly advancing particularly in the technology industry. We are introduced to new inventions at a breakneck pace which sometimes caught us off guard to the point that we’re barely familiar to the one that precedes it. Humanity itself is playing a game of tag with tech, and we’re it.

In the fast pace of technological advancement, big tech companies are often at each other’s throats; trying to one-up one another to produce and develop the best version of devices for mass consumption.

In the race of big tech companies, more often than it should, civil liberties and privacy policies are usually set aside to catch up with the growing needs of tech development. Unfortunately, there’s nothing much from stopping them from doing so.

Our current laws are ancient and easily swatted as irrelevant in the realm of new-age technology. The current judicial system directly cannot come to par with the circumstances within the technological arena; they lie within the gray area for one simple reason: they weren’t made or implemented for such purposes or the technology that’s still being developed.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the world wide web that we know so well today, wrote a letter when the network turned 30 and indicated three dysfunctions society has created within the Internet realm. There he discusses different problems regarding privacy violations, commercialism within the system, and how all these can still be mitigated.

In the letter, Berners-Lee wrote: “Governments must translate laws and regulations for the digital age. They must ensure markets remain competitive, innovative and open. And they have a responsibility to protect people’s rights and freedoms online. We need open web champions within government — civil servants and elected officials who will take action when private sector interests threaten the public good and who will stand up to protect the open web.”

Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz and Missouri Senator Roy Blunt introduced a bill Thursday to the Senate that would potentially aid in the furthering intent to govern technological development.

The senators proposed a bill designed to offer legislative oversight for commercial applications of facial recognition technology. The bipartisan Commercial Facial Recognition Privacy Act, sponsored by Senators Schatz and Blunt is the first of its kind when it comes to facial recognition technologies and the privacy concerns surrounding them.

Under the bill, commercial companies would be required to notify people involved in the development process of the technology when their data is being used. According to the lawmakers, it would also require third-party testing before the tech could be introduced into the market to ensure it is unbiased and doesn’t harm consumers.

This comes quickly after the privacy violations debacle IBM faced when news broke that they were using data from over a million people without informing them beforehand that their faces were being used to develop facial recognition systems.

“Consumers are increasingly concerned about how their data is being collected and used, including data collected through facial recognition technology,” Blunt says. “That’s why we need guardrails to ensure that, as this technology continues to develop, it is implemented responsibly.”

“Our faces are our identities. They’re personal. So the responsibility is on companies to ask people for their permission before they track and analyze their faces,” Schatz said. “Our bill makes sure that people are given the information and — more importantly — the control over how their data is shared with companies using facial recognition technology.”

The bill, coincidentally, coincides with Microsoft’s interests. Over the past few months, Microsoft has been involving itself in legislation processes across the country regarding facial recognition systems. Microsoft continues to advocate that facial recognition can bring forward more possibilities and security advancements.

Just last month, Microsoft pushed back bipartisan Washington lawmakers against legislation disallowing agencies to use facial recognition technology until certain conditions are met, including a report by the state attorney general certifying that systems in use are equally accurate for people of differing races, skin tones, ethnicities, genders, or age.

However, Microsoft President, Brad Smith on the Commercial Facial Recognition Privacy Act said, “Facial recognition technology creates many new benefits for society and should continue to be developed. Its use, however, needs to be regulated to protect against acts of bias and discrimination, preserve consumer privacy, and uphold our basic democratic freedoms.”

“We believe it’s important for governments in 2019 to start adopting laws to regulate this technology,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote in December. “The facial recognition genie, so to speak, is just emerging from the bottle.”

As Microsoft makes it’s intentions clear, it can be concluded that tech companies will be involving themselves in the legislation process, even before they become laws. This can be a good or bad thing: both sides can check on each other, now allowing abuse and exploitation occur or personal agendas can be pushed forward with each other’s cooperation.

The whole thing lies on a balance between developing technology for good and developing it in terms that do not trample over privacy concerns and civil liberties.

As of the moment, the direction and finality of the Bill has yet to be determined. But what’s good about this move is that the government are coming along with technology, slow but not arrogant enough to brush the off.

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