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Microsoft won’t sell facial recognition to police until Congress passes new privacy law

Microsoft has followed competitors Amazon and IBM in restricting how it provides facial recognition technology to third parties, in particular to law enforcement agencies. The company says that it does not currently provide the technology to police, but it’s now saying it will not do so until there are federal laws governing how it can be deployed safely and without infringing on human rights or civil liberties.

Microsoft’s 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.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Microsoft, as recently as this year, supported legislation in California that would allow police departments and private companies to purchase and use such systems. That’s following laws in San Francisco, Oakland, and other Californian cities that banned use of the technology by police and governments last year. The bill, AB 2261, failed last week, in a victory for the ACLU and coalition of 65 organizations that came together to comb.

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