Microsoft will not offer its facial-recognition technology to police in the US unless the country enacts a federal law regulating its use.
“We’ve decided that 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,” Microsoft President Brad Smith told Washington Post Live.
In addition, Smith says Microsoft will be extra careful in determining which customers will get access to the company’s facial-recognition system. “We’ll also put in place some additional review factors, so that we’re looking at other potential uses of this technology that go even beyond what we already have,” he said.
Microsoft joins Amazon and IBM, which have also decided to stop supplying the controversial technology to police forces. In Amazon’s case, the company placed a one-year moratorium on offering its Rekognition system to the police so Congress, in theory, has time to act.
According to Smith, a federal law is desperately needed to help prevent the technology from being abused. “I think it’s important to see what IBM has done. I think it’s important to recognize what Amazon has done,” he said during the talk. “But if all of the responsible companies in the country cede this market to those that are not prepared to take a stand, we won’t necessarily serve the national interest or the lives of the black, African-American people of this nation well.”
Indeed, a controversial startup named Clearview AI says it’ll continue supplying its own facial-recognition technology to US law enforcement, despite concerns the same system will pave the way for surveillance and policing abuses against minorities. Civil rights groups, along with US senators, are particularly worried the Trump administration will use the facial-recognition systems to identify peaceful protesters at the Black Lives Matter marches.
However, Smith indicated he’s hopeful the ongoing calls for police reform in the US will push lawmakers to regulate the technology. “We need Congress to act, not just tech companies alone. That is the only way we can guarantee we will protect the lives of people,” he added.
Microsoft’s facial-recognition system is currently offered through Azure as an enterprise product. It can identify someone’s face in a photo through image matching, as well as estimate someone’s age, gender, pose, and even emotional state.
Last year, Smith said one California law enforcement agency requested the system be combined with police cars and body camera. However, the company declined out of fear that its technology would misidentify innocent minorities and women as criminal suspects.