Microsoft won’t sell facial recognition technology to police

Allison Matyus

Following in other tech giants’ footsteps, Microsoft announced it would not sell its facial recognition surveillance software to law enforcement. 

Microsoft President Brad Smith made the announcement Thursday during a live interview with The Washington Post. 

“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 bottom line for us is to protect the human rights of people as this technology is deployed.”

Microsoft joins other tech companies like Amazon and IBM in banning or ending facial recognition technology this week. 

izusek/Getty Images

IBM was the first to announce that the company would no longer develop or offer general-purpose facial recognition or analysis software. Amazon followed suit on Wednesday, banning police from using its facial recognition software known as Rekognition for one year. 

These companies that are limiting facial-recognition software and breaking ties with law enforcement are a direct result of worldwide protests of the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Fight for the Future, the digital rights group who initially called for a ban on government use of facial recognition last year, said that moves from these tech companies were “essentially a public relations stunt,” but added the bans could spur Congress to act.

“It’s also a sign that facial recognition is increasingly politically toxic, which is a result of the incredible organizing happening on the ground right now,” Fight for the Future Deputy Director Evan Greer said in a statement. “Amazon and Microsoft know that facial recognition software is dangerous. They know it’s the perfect tool for tyranny. They know it’s racist — and that in the hands of police it will simply exacerbate systemic discrimination in our criminal justice system.”

A Microsoft spokesperson told Digital Trends that the company has been calling for strong government regulation on the use of facial recognition.

“We’re committed to working with others to advocate for the legislation that is needed. We’re also taking this opportunity to further strengthen our review processes for any customer seeking to use this technology at scale,” the spokesperson said.

In an interview with Digital Trends about facial recognition technology (FRT), Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Saira Hussain said, “The government should never have access to FRT and it’s not compatible with a democratic society. It infringes on our first and fourth amendment rights.”

When it comes to the private sphere, Hussain told Digital Trends that she fears corporations will develop this technology without considering the ethical implications.