February 11, 2019
Washington State has introduced a bill to regulate facial recognition software, and tech giant Microsoft is advocating for its passage, while e-commerce leader Amazon remains undecided. Amazon asked state senator Reuven Carlyle, who sponsored the bill, for clarification as well as a change to the requirement that AI software developers claiming the ability to identify faces must allow third parties to test it. Carlyle explained he would examine all submitted requests and introduce a revised version of the bill.
Bloomberg reports Carlyle stated that, “it’s fair to say Amazon has a deep skepticism and concern about meaningful restrictions on facial recognition.” But he added that Amazon has also “made it clear their goal is to attempt to get to a place where they can be supportive of the legislation.”
Some consumer advocacy groups, companies and governments have expressed concerns about “products that track and categorize people by their facial characteristics,” saying they are “biased and may compromise privacy.”
Microsoft president/chief legal officer Brad Smith stated that, with regard to the Washington legislation, “opening up the software for third-party testing is one of the key parts of the bill.” He noted that being opposed to testing is “like an automobile company objecting to testing of airbags.” “The public has the right to evaluate these services, and responsible companies should recognize the importance of this kind of third-party testing,” said Smith.
Amazon has not commented, but has said it supports “standardized testing of facial recognition software,” and in a blog post by Amazon Web Services vice president of global public policy Michael Punke, added that, “when law enforcement agencies use the software, people in those agencies need to review the results to make sure civil liberties aren’t violated.”
Third parties — MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini and the American Civil Liberties Union — have already tested Amazon and Microsoft’s facial-recognition programs.
Microsoft’s Smith had also suggested steps that are integrated into the bill, “including plain English language explaining what the programs do, conspicuous notification to customers when they are being analyzed by the software and the requirement for meaningful human review in any ‘final decisions based on such profiling where such final decisions produce legal effects concerning consumers or similarly significant effects concerning consumers’.”
The bill also bans “ongoing surveillance using the software without a court order, except in cases of emergency where there is risk to human life or serious injury.”
Carlyle has invited companies and advocacy groups to a meeting to discuss the proposed legislation, which is part of a larger privacy bill that would affect any company doing business in the state that either processes the data of 100,000+ consumes or gets half its revenue from the sale of personal data. “If it passes, it takes an important and much needed step to be a regulatory foundation for facial recognition technology and create a model that can be considered by other states and countries,” said Smith.