Following the lead of Amazon and IBM, Microsoft on Thursday announced it won’t sell its facial recognition technology to U.S. police departments until a federal law regulating its use is implemented.
Microsoft President Brad Smith made the announcement during a Washington Post livestreamed event, saying the company hasn’t sold the technology to law enforcement as of yet.
“We will not sell facial-recognition technology to police departments in the United States until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights that will govern this technology,” Smith said.
The move was applauded by a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union, which last year led a coalition of 80 civil rights groups calling on tech giants to halt such sales to law enforcement.
“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,” Matt Cagle, technology and civil liberties attorney for the ACLU in Northern California, said in a news release. “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 halting its current efforts to advance legislation that would legitimize and expand the police use of facial recognition in multiple states nationwide.”
The moves by Microsoft and other tech companies come as police nationwide face mounting accusations of brutality for their handling of protesters in the wake of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis last month. On Wednesday, Amazon banned police from using its facial recognition technology for one year to buy Congress time to implement regulations surrounding its use.
IBM said Tuesday it’s pulling out of the facial recognition business completely, given how the technology can be used for racial profiling and mass surveillance.
Redmond-based Microsoft two years ago was the first major tech company to call for federal regulation of the technology. During the past two weeks, the company had a front-row seat to police brutality accusations, as Seattle police used tear gas and pepper spray to clear protesters downtown and in Capitol Hill.
A local Black Lives Matter group has filed a lawsuit against Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best for the tactics used to break up what it said were mostly peaceful protests.
Durkan has called police use of tear gas and flash-bang grenades “unacceptable” and vowed to fully review the response and implement changes.