Microsoft says it won’t sell facial recognition software to police without new regulations


Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith said the company won’t sell facial recognition software to U.S. police departments until there are laws in place governing the use of such technology, making the pledge a day after rival Inc. paused similar usage for a year.

Smith, who is also the company’s chief legal officer, said Microsoft doesn’t currently supply the artificial intelligence software for facial recognition to any U.S. police departments. He spoke via video on Thursday at a Washington Post virtual conference that was posted to Twitter.

“This is a moment in time that really calls on us to listen more, to learn more and most importantly to do more,” he said in the interview. “Given that, we’ve decided we will not sell facial recognition to police departments in the U.S. until we have a national law in place grounded in human rights that will govern this technology.”


Smith also said the company will review other uses of facial recognition software, which he didn’t specify. Microsoft has an internal committee that looks at when it should sell the software to particular customers. The group’s criteria aren’t public, and Microsoft has declined to provide them, apart from a few examples of cases where it opted to turn down contracts.

Microsoft’s announcement follows IBM Corp.‘s decision Monday to exit the facial recognition market, and Amazon’s move Wednesday to put in place a one-year pause on sales to police departments. The moves come in the midst of protests about law enforcement brutality and bias after a police officer killed an unarmed Black man, George Floyd. Facial recognition technology has been shown in experiments to sometimes have difficulty identifying people with darker skin.

Smith praised IBM and Amazon’s actions while renewing his call for national legislation to regulate the technology. He has been urging lawmakers to take a stand on facial recognition software for two years, but a bill in Microsoft’s home state of Washington that borrowed heavily from his proposals has failed twice. Meanwhile, activists have been asking for laws that go further, including outright bans on the technology.

“If all of the responsible companies in this country cede this market to those that are not prepared to make a stand, we won’t necessarily serve the national interest or the lives of the Black and African American people of this national well,” he said. “We need Congress to act, not just tech companies alone.”