THE NEUTRAL ZONE
On Thursday, Microsoft officially stated that it would “await federal regulation before selling facial recognition to police departments,” adding that they do not currently sell that technology to police departments. Microsoft followed previous statements by both IBM and Amazon. On Monday, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna wrote in a letter to Congress that the company “firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any [facial recognition] technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors.” Amazon said on Wednesday that it was “banning use of its facial recognition software by police for one year.”
President Donald Trump responded on Friday by retweeting a post from former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell that stated, “[Microsoft] should now be barred from federal government contracts – there should be consequences for not selling technology to police departments.”
The companies’ statements came amid protests around the world following the killing of George Floyd, where some have voiced fears that facial recognition technology could be used to track down protesters. Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey recently questioned whether Clearview AI would be used by law enforcement agencies, adding, “As demonstrators across the country exercise their First Amendment rights by protesting racial injustice, it is important that law enforcement does not use technological tools to stifle free speech or endanger the public.” Numerous other Senators shared his fears in a letter to Attorney General William Barr and Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf. The Justice in Policing Act proposed by House Democrats would place limits on real-time facial recognition technology.
Some lawmakers touted the benefits of facial recognition technology at the United States border in a February hearing. John Wagner, deputy executive assistant commissioner overseeing field operations for the customs agency, stated, “The use of facial-comparison technology simply automates a process that is often done manually today.”
However, beyond potential First Amendment complaints, facial recognition technology has also faced numerous accusations of bias. In 2018, an MIT Media Lab study of facial-recognition technology software by IBM, Microsoft, and Face ++ found that people of color and women were misidentified more often than white men. A 2019 study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found similar results in a 2019 study.
Microsoft says it won’t sell facial recognition technology to US police departments – CNN – 6/11/2020
The announcement follows in the footsteps of tech giants IBM and Amazon, which both rolled out limitations on plans to sell facial recognition in the wake of anti-racism protests around the world in response to the death of George Floyd. Microsoft president Brad Smith said any legislation on facial recognition should be firmly grounded in human rights.
Amazon imposes one-year ban on police use of facial recognition technology – Fox News – 6/11/2020
Although the tech giant did not mention the ongoing protests against police brutality and racism across the country, the moratorium could be seen as a response to critics who have contended that the controversial technology is inherently biased against black people and prone to misidentifying them. The digital rights group Fight for the Future, which has been at the forefront of a coalition of advocates calling for a nationwide ban on facial recognition technology, called Amazon’s one-year moratorium a “publicity stunt.”
Amazon will temporarily stop selling its facial recognition software to law enforcement – Salon – 6/11/2020
Amazon announced Wednesday that it is implementing a one-year moratorium on allowing police forces to use its facial recognition technology, known as Rekognition. The statement, which noted that the company would still offer its technology to organizations like the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, explicitly connected its decision to deny the technology to police officers with protests over law enforcement misconduct.
Amazon Bans Police from Using Its Facial Recognition Tech – Breitbart – 6/11/2020
The move comes as protests continue across the United States over the recent death of George Floyd. Some have welcomed Amazon’s decision to temporarily stop offering police access to its software. Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), who serves on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform is hopeful that Congress will soon pass a bill regulating the use of facial recognition tech.
Garry Kasparov on Twitter, 6/11/2020: Fine, but I must ask if this new Microsoft policy also applies to selling its facial recognition software to authoritarian regimes like Russia, China, and Turkey?
Kate Crawford on Twitter, 6/11/2020: Microsoft announces it won’t sell facial recognition to police. Waiting to hear from you, Clearview and Palantir.
EFF on Twitter, 6/11/2020: Amazon says it supports communities vulnerable to police violence. Then why do they offer a tool that intensifies suspicion and helps police racially profile people?
Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib on Twitter, 6/11/2020: Study after study has confirmed its potential to lead to nothing more than an increase in the targeting of Black and Brown Americans, who have already bore the brunt of injustice and police violence. Read about just one of them here:
Dina Bass on Twitter, 6/11/2020: A few remaining questions: What about non-US law enforcement? Has Microsoft ever sold to police and is just now not? How can the company be totally certain given that police sometimes purchase the software through municipal contracts? (I’ve asked, waiting for answers).