Microsoft tried to sell its face recognition tech to US DEA: Report

Microsoft which said last week it will not sell facial recognition technology to police departments, reportedly tried to sell the technology to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

According to a report in The Hill citing emails released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the DEA “piloted the facial recognition technology and that Microsoft hosted agency personnel at its Virginia office for demos and training”.

The DEA, however, did not purchase the technology at the time.

“It is bad enough that Microsoft tried to sell a dangerous technology to a law enforcement agency tasked with spearheading the racist drug war, but it gets worse,” Nathan Freed Wessler, senior staff attorney at the ACLU, said in a statement.

“This is troubling given the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s record, but it’s even more disturbing now that Attorney General Bill Barr has reportedly expanded this very agency’s surveillance authorities, which could be abused to spy on people protesting police brutality,” he added.

Microsoft was yet to comment on the report.

After IBM and Amazon, Microsoft President Brad Smith who is known as the torchbearer vouching for an ethical and responsible AI last week said the company would not sell its facial recognition technology to police.

“As a result of the principles that we’ve put in place, we do not sell facial recognition technology to police departments in the US today,” Smith said.

Smith said the company will not sell facial recognition until there’s a “national law in place grounded in human rights that will govern this technology”.

For years, racial justice and civil rights advocates had been warning that this technology in law enforcement hands would be the end of privacy. It would supercharge police abuses, and it would be used to harm and target Black and Brown communities in particular.

According to Kade Crockford, Director, ACLU, banning face surveillance won’t stop systemic racism, “but it will take one powerful tool away from institutions that are responsible for upholding it”.

“The companies refused to get out of this surveillance business. It wasn’t until there was a national reckoning over anti-Black police violence and systemic racism, and these companies getting caught in activists’ crosshairs for their role in perpetuating racism, that the tech giants conceded � even if only a little,” Crockford said in a separate blog post.

“Face surveillance is the most dangerous of the many new technologies available to law enforcement. The technology is a particularly serious threat to Black people,” he added.