Amazon, IBM and now Microsoft ban the sale of facial recognition technology to police departments and are urging for federal laws to regulate its use.

Microsoft has joined Amazon and IBM in banning the sale of facial recognition technology to police departments, the tech giants are also urging for federal laws to regulate the use of these solutions.

Microsoft is joining Amazon and IBM when it comes to halting the sale of facial recognition technology to police departments. In a statement released Thursday by Microsoft President Brad Smith, he said the ban would stick until federal laws regulating the technology’s use were put in place.

“We will not sell facial-recognition technology to police departments in the United States until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights, that will govern this technology,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith. “The bottom line for us is to protect the human rights of people as this technology is deployed,”

Below the video interviews published by The Washington Post:

This week Amazon announced a one-year moratorium to ban the sale of facial recognition technology to police departments.

Facial Recognition

“We’re implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of Amazon’s facial recognition technology.” reads the Amazon’s announcement. “We’ve advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology, and in recent days, Congress appears ready to take on this challenge. We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested.”

A similar decision was announced by IBM that will stop the provisioning of general-purpose facial recognition technology or analysis software, below the statement included in a letter sent by IBM CEO to Congress.

“IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software. IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency.” reads a statement by IBM’s CEO Arvind Krishna. “We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.”

The killing of George Floyd is pushing a police reform in the US and the use of facial recognition is in the middle of a heated debate.

Facial recognition systems bring significant ethical risks and we cannot underestimate them. I’m not surprised by the move of companies like IBM and Amazon, they have to protect their brand reputation and the tragic events we are assisting could have a dramatic impact on their business too.

These company have also a huge economic interest in being part of the technological changes of our society, they have initially proposed their systems for surveillance purposes, and now are offering their support and their solutions for a better world that could remediate our errors. It is a multi billionaire business.

The main issue is a responsible use of any technology, facial recognition could be abused for mass surveillance and racial profiling violating basic human rights and freedoms.

“Face recognition can be used to target people engaging in protected speech. For example, during protests surrounding the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore Police Department ran social media photos through face recognition to identify protesters and arrest them,” the EFF wrote.

IBM is insisting on providing “greater transparency” using technologies like body cameras on police officers and data analytics, the latter could be used to develop systems that could help to predict crimes.

Our society is rapidly changing, our cities are becoming smart with the massive introduction of technologies live cameras and sensors and we must be able to manage them providing the necessary transparency on its use.

Giving a close look at  the IBM announcement it is clear that the company will only stop providing ‘general purpose’ facial recognition, this means that the IT giants will continue to work on this technologies providing very advanced and specific solutions, and obviously intelligence agencies will continue to use them without asking any consent to the population.

Amazon artificial intelligence software Rekognition is also criticized by human rights groups that highlight the disproportionately negative effect on non-white people.

Let me close with my interview with @TRT on this topic:

Pierluigi Paganini