This week has been a big one for facial recognition news. First, IBM announced they will be getting out of the facial recognition tools game altogether, and then Amazon announced it is placing a moratorium on selling its facial recognition tools to police for one year. Both moves were sparked by the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of white police officers. Facial recognition technology has frequently been found to be racially biased.
And now you can add Microsoft to the list of companies that are refusing to sell its facial recognition technology to police. Unlike Amazon, however, Microsoft said it will place an unlimited moratorium on selling its facial recognition tech to police until Congress passes a law that has “stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology.” Also, unlike Amazon, Microsoft does not currently sell its facial recognition tools to police forces.
Speaking to The Washington Post, Microsoft president Brad Smith said:
As a result of the principles that we’ve put in place, we do not sell facial recognition technology to police departments in the United States today. But I do think this is a moment in time that really calls on us to listen more, to learn more, and most importantly, to do more. Given that, we’ve decided that we will not sell facial recognition to police departments in the United States until we have a national law in place ground in human rights that will govern this technology.
After Microsoft’s announcement, Matt Cagle, the technology and civil liberties attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, said:
When even the makers of face recognition refuse to sell this surveillance technology because it is so dangerous, lawmakers can no longer deny the threats to our rights and liberties. Congress and legislatures nationwide must swiftly stop law enforcement use of face recognition, and companies like Microsoft should work with the civil rights community — not against it — to make that happen. This includes Microsoft halting its current efforts to advance legislation that would legitimize and expand the police use of facial recognition in multiple states nationwide.
But Cagle went on to press Microsoft and other companies to not just place moratoriums on selling surveillance tech to police forces, but to permanently stop doing so, stating, “We also urge these companies to work to forever shut the door on America’s sordid chapter of over-policing of Black and Brown communities, including the surveillance technologies that disproportionately harm them.”