Microsoft won't sell facial recognition to police without federal regulation

It's joining other tech companies in demanding more accountability.

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Microsoft is following Amazon and IBM in limiting access to facial recognition technology in light of protests denouncing police discrimination and violence. Company president Brad Smith has announced at a Washington Post event that Microsoft won’t sell facial recognition systems to police departments until there’s federal regulation “grounded in human rights.” This is more of a commitment to the status quo when the company already doesn’t officer facial recognition to police in the US, but this does represent a firm line for any would-be deals.

There will also be “review factors” to determine the use of facial recognition in other areas and “protect” rights there as well, Smith said.

The approach is consistent with Microsoft’s stance from the past few years. It was asking Congress to regulate facial recognition back in 2018, and has turned down at least one US law enforcement contract that it felt would tread on people’s human rights. The company has already been scaling back its investments in facial recognition.

Microsoft might get its wish for a law, at least to a limited degree. Congressional Democrats have introduced a police accountability bill that would ban the use of real-time facial recognition without a judge’s approval. The bill if it became law wouldn’t address some of the lingering problems, such as racial and gender biases, but it might reduce the potential for racial profiling, intimidation, privacy intrusions and other violations that could come with indiscriminate use.