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Microsoft pitched its facial recognition tech to the DEA, new emails show

Microsoft tried to sell its facial approval engineering to the Drug Enforcement Administration as far back as 2017, according to newly exhausted emails.

The American Civil Liberties Union obtained the emails through a public records prosecution it filed in October, challenging the secrecy smothering the DEA’s facial identification planned. The ACLU shared the emails with TechCrunch.

The emails, dated between September 2017 and December 2018, show that Microsoft privately hosted DEA operators at its Reston, Va. role to demonstrate its facial acceptance structure, and that the DEA last-minute piloted the technology.

It was during this time Microsoft’s president Brad Smith was publicly calling for ” regulations ” embracing the use of facial recognition.

But the emails also show that the DEA expressed concern with purchasing the technology, dreading disapproval from the FBI’s use of facial identification at the time that caught the attention of government watchdogs.

Critics have long said this face-matching technology flouts Americans’ right to privacy, and that the technology disproportionately shows bias against people of color. But despite the rise of facial identification by police and in public rooms, Congress has struggled to keep pace and introduce legislation that would oversee the as-of-yet unregulated space.

But things changed in the wake of the nationwide and world asserts following the completion of the death of George Floyd, which inspired a revived focus about law enforcement and racial injustice.

An email from a Microsoft account executive inviting DEA operators to its Reston, Va. agency to demo its facial approval engineering.( Source: ACLU/ afforded)

Microsoft was the third company last week to say it will no longer sell its facial acknowledgment engineering to patrol until more federal regulation is put into place, following in the paces of Amazon, which put a one-year moratorium on selling its technology to police. IBM proceeded further, saying it will wind down its facial approval business entirely.

But Microsoft, like Amazon, did not say if it would no longer sell to federal departments and agencies like the DEA.

” It is bad enough that Microsoft tried to sell a dangerous technology to a law enforcement agency tasked with spearheading the racist drug fighting, but it gets worse, ” said Nathan Freed Wessler, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU.” Even after belatedly promising not to sell face surveillance tech to patrol last week, Microsoft has refused to say whether it would sell the technology to federal agencies like the DEA ,” said Wessler.

” This is troubling having regard to the U.S. 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 arbiters, which could be abused to spy on people affirming police brutality ,” he said.

Lawmakers have since called for a halt to the DEA’s covert surveillance of demonstrators, superpowers that were granted by the Justice Department earlier in June as declarations spread across the U.S. and around the world.

When contacted, DEA spokesperson Michael Miller declined to answer our questions. A spokesperson for Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment.

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