SEATTLE — Microsoft today announced a moratorium on its sale of face recognition technology to law enforcement. Below is comment from Matt Cagle, technology and civil liberties attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, in response:
“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. 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. This includes Microsoft halting its current efforts to advance legislation that would legitimize and expand the police use of facial recognition in multiple states nationwide.
“It should not have taken the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and far too many other Black people, hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets, brutal law enforcement attacks against protesters and journalists, and the deployment of military-grade surveillance equipment on protests led by Black activists for these companies to wake up to the everyday realities of police surveillance for Black and Brown communities. We welcome these companies finally taking action — as little and as late as it may be. We also urge these companies to work to forever shut the door on America’s sordid chapter of over-policing of Black and Brown communities, including the surveillance technologies that disproportionately harm them.
“No company backed bill should be taken seriously unless the communities most impacted say it is the right solution.”
In January 2019, the ACLU led a coalition of over 80 civil rights groups calling on Amazon, Google, and Microsoft to stop selling face recognition technology to law enforcement. Google heeded these calls early on. Microsoft instead responded with a legislative effort in multiple states to legitimize law enforcement use of the technology. The ACLU, together with a coalition of groups, earlier this month defeated one such effort in California.
The ACLU is also leading a nationwide movement to ensure individuals — not private entities or government agencies — get to decide if and how surveillance technologies are used in their communities. Already, as part of ACLU-led campaigns, multiple towns and cities, including San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland, California, and Springfield and Cambridge, Massachusetts, have adopted model ACLU legislation banning the government’s use of face recognition. Following another ACLU-led coalition effort, the state of California blocked use of the technology on police body cams.
The ACLU is also calling for changes to the Justice in Policing Act, introduced in the wake of the George Floyd protest and which will be considered next week, to prohibit face recognition from being used in conjunction with body worn cameras.
Additional information on Microsoft’s legislative efforts nationwide is here: https://www.aclu.org/news/civil-liberties/microsoft-says-it-supports-racial-justice-will-they-refuse-to-power-discriminatory-police-surveillance/.