Free COVID at-home test kits Omicron vs. delta New Google Maps features Jack Reacher trailer Walmart PS5 and Xbox Series X restock Cyber Week deals

Microsoft says it won't sell its facial recognition tech to police

The company says it won't sell the system to law enforcement until federal regulations are in place. The move follows similar steps by Amazon and IBM.

microsoft-1085
Angela Lang/CNET

Microsoft won't sell its facial recognition software to police and law enforcement until federal regulations for facial recognition tech are in place, company president Brad Smith told The Washington Post during an interview Thursday morning. The move follows nationwide protests against police brutality and similar steps by Amazon and IBM regarding facial recognition systems.

"The bottom line for us is to protect the human rights of people as this technology is deployed," Smith told the Post, adding that the company hasn't previously sold the technology to law enforcement.

Consumer advocates and civil liberties groups have long warned about facial recognition technology, particularly with respect to the police. Two years ago, the ACLU began calling on tech giants to stop providing the technology to governments and law enforcement agencies, arguing that it posed a potential threat, especially to immigrants and people of color. Last year, Microsoft quietly took down a massive facial recognition database, consisting of more than 10 million images culled from the internet, after the database was linked to the Chinese government's crackdown on ethnic Muslims.

"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," said Matt Cagle, a technology and civil liberties attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.

"For the past two years we have been focused on developing and implementing strong principles that govern our use of facial recognition, and we've been calling for strong government regulation," a Microsoft spokesperson told CNET. "We do not sell our facial recognition technology to US police departments today, and until there is a strong national law grounded in human rights, we will not sell this technology to police departments."

That might not be enough to win over the ACLU, which would like to see companies like Microsoft keep their facial recognition tech closed off to law enforcement indefinitely.

"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," Cagle said. "This includes halting its current efforts to advance legislation that would legitimize and expand the police use of facial recognition in multiple states nationwide."

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