Microsoft President and Chief Counsel Brad Smith has reiterated the company's position on selling its facial recognition technology to law enforcement (LE) agencies. Speaking during a Post Live event, Smith said the company still refuses to sell its technology to LE. Furthermore, Smith said Microsoft's stance will remain until federal law exists to regulate facial recognition systems.
Smith's comments come after Amazon put a one-year moratorium on allowing police to use its “Rekognition” technology. IBM took a stricter stance and completely pulled out of general purpose facial recognition software.
Microsoft has long said the first step to using this technology is for it to properly regulated. Smith praised Washington State's regulations earlier this year. However, he called for nation-wide laws to be created.
It is worth noting Smith has merely reconfirmed a position Microsoft initially took back in 2018. At the time, the company said it wanted government regulation around the tech:
“To protect against the use of facial recognition to encroach on democratic freedoms, legislation should permit law enforcement agencies to use facial recognition to engage in ongoing surveillance of specified individuals in public spaces only when:
- a court order has been obtained to permit the use of facial recognition services for this monitoring; or
- where there is an emergency involving imminent danger or risk of death or serious physical injury to a person.”
ZDNet reached out to Microsoft following Smith's latest comments. In response, the company says it wants to create “strong principles” to govern the technology. Until that happens, Microsoft facial recognition technology won't be sold to law enforcement:
“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. 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.”
That last point is important. In March, the Microsoft M12 ventures division stopped investing in facial recognition tech company AnyVision. A year ago, Microsoft's M12 venture division invested in a $74 million series A funding round for the Israel-based company. Many people critisized the move considering AnyVision is believed to sell technology to governments.
Microsoft took the criticism on board and announced last November it would audit AnyVision. In March the company said the concerns were legitimate and ended its interest in the company.