In early June, Microsoft joined a rising checklist of tech corporations that pledged to not promote facial recognition know-how to police departments till the controversial know-how was federally regulated. However that announcement left a loophole: promoting facial recognition to the federal authorities.
Newly launched emails present the corporate has tried to promote the controversial know-how to the federal government for years, together with to the Drug Enforcement Administration in late 2017.
These paperwork, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through a public data lawsuit, present a uncommon look into how the Redmond, Washington–primarily based firm tried to promote synthetic intelligence companies to federal companies six months earlier than its July 2018 name for “public regulation and company accountability” round facial recognition. Final week, Microsoft mentioned “we don’t promote our facial recognition know-how to US police departments at present” and dedicated not to take action “till there’s a robust nationwide regulation grounded in human rights.”
However that pledge didn’t handle any potential or ongoing relationships with federal companies. When requested by BuzzFeed Information, Microsoft didn’t instantly present touch upon whether or not it has offered or is at the moment offering its facial recognition know-how to federal regulation enforcement companies.
The emails obtained by the ACLU present that the corporate pitched facial recognition as a regulation enforcement software to the DEA in late 2017 as the corporate pushed to broaden its choices on its authorities cloud platform, Microsoft Azure Authorities Cloud. In September of that yr, a person whose identify has been redacted, however listed their title because the DEA’s chief know-how officer, said that he was internet hosting the Microsoft Cognitive Providers Group “to debate use-cases for his or her Media Providers.”
“As it’s possible you’ll bear in mind, Microsoft Azure has many of those companies (Translation, Transcription, Video Processing, Facial Recognition, and so on.) working within the Public Azure,” the particular person wrote on Sept. 15, 2017. “Microsoft has solely a few of these companies working within the Microsoft Azure Authorities (MAG) Cloud and they’re what else must be transitioned over to MAG.”
The particular person later famous that MAG was authorised for “Regulation Enforcement Delicate issues” and that they wished to create a pilot undertaking to check quite a lot of video and audio recording applied sciences.
A DEA spokesperson declined to touch upon its conversations with Microsoft or the company’s exams or deployment of facial recognition.
Different emails present that DEA representatives visited Microsoft’s workplace in Reston, Virginia, in November 2017 to see an illustration of a collection of merchandise together with translation companies, doc transcription, “optical character recognition in video,” and Azure facial recognition. In a follow-up message after the assembly, a Microsoft worker, whose identify was redacted, gave a quick overview of all of the demos his group confirmed the company together with “Face API: Determine related faces, develop a face database.”
“Please tell us when and the way we will take the subsequent step on a prototype,” they wrote. Based mostly on the emails, it’s unclear if any prototype was constructed.
Eight months after these conferences, Microsoft President Brad Smith penned a weblog put up calling for “considerate authorities regulation and for the event of norms round acceptable makes use of” surrounding facial recognition.
“If there are considerations about how a know-how shall be deployed extra broadly throughout society, the one strategy to regulate this broad use is for the federal government to take action,” he wrote, earlier than acknowledging the potential for racial profiling and misidentification.
Regardless of these considerations, Microsoft’s representatives continued to pitch facial recognition as a part of its Azure Authorities providing. In November 2018, a “Sr. Microsoft SME,” whose identify was redacted within the electronic mail, despatched one other be aware to a DEA consultant requesting a gathering. Azure has quite a few relationships with federal companies together with the Division of Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Whereas it’s not clear if the DEA moved ahead with Microsoft’s Azure AI choices, the truth that Microsoft pitched such companies within the first place “is regarding,” Kade Crockford of the ACLU Massachusetts informed BuzzFeed Information. In October, the ACLU sued the Division of Justice, FBI, and DEA after these companies didn’t adjust to a public data request relating to their use of facial recognition and different biometric monitoring know-how.
Microsoft’s current determination to not present facial recognition to police departments is “a optimistic step,” mentioned Crockford, noting that it’s what civil rights organizations have demanded for years after research confirmed the know-how has excessive charges of misidentification amongst racial minorities.
“The DEA has an extended historical past of racially disparate or racist practices and has been engaged in wildly inappropriate mass surveillance,” they mentioned.
BuzzFeed Information beforehand reported that people related to the DEA examined Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition software program that’s been constructed utilizing billions of pictures scraped from social media websites together with Fb, Instagram, and Twitter. As of February, greater than 20 customers related to the DEA have run about 2,000 searches in accordance with information seen by BuzzFeed Information.
Following nationwide protests of racial injustices and police brutality confronted by Black folks, corporations have pulled again on their facial recognition choices. Earlier this month, Amazon mentioned it could place a one-year moratorium on promoting its biometric face identification service, Rekognition, to police, whereas IBM mentioned it could cease growing or researching facial recognition.
When requested by BuzzFeed Information, nevertheless, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft refused to reveal which police departments, if any, had beforehand used their facial recognition companies.
Earlier this month, BuzzFeed Information additionally reported that the Justice Division gave the DEA permission “to implement any federal crime dedicated because of the protests over the demise of George Floyd.”