January 15, 2019

 

Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer

Brad Smith, President

Microsoft Corporation

 

Dear Mr. Nadella and Mr. Smith,

We are a coalition of organizations dedicated to protecting civil rights and liberties and safeguarding vulnerable communities. We commend Microsoft for acknowledging the grave risks associated with face surveillance and the need for action. We write today to call on Microsoft to commit that it will not provide its face surveillance product, Face API, to governments.

Microsoft has acknowledged the dangers of face surveillance and its responsibility to build and disseminate technology that does no harm. In a speech and blog post published on December 6th, Mr. Smith observed how widespread face recognition can lead to a surveillance society where bias and discrimination are exacerbated, privacy is virtually non-existent, and our democratic freedoms are eviscerated. Mr. Smith also acknowledged Microsoft’s responsibility to take internal company steps to address these issues.

The dangers of face surveillance can only be fully addressed by stopping its use by governments. This technology provides the government with an unprecedented ability to track who we are, where we go, what we do, and who we know. With that power comes the ability to target and single out immigrants, religious minorities, and people of color in our communities. Systems built on face surveillance will amplify and exacerbate historical and existing bias that harms these and other over-policed and over-surveilled communities. In a world with face surveillance, people will have to fear being watched and targeted by the government for attending a protest, congregating outside a place of worship, or simply living their lives.

In his December 6 post, Mr. Smith acknowledged many of these dangers, but then proposed wholly inadequate safeguards. Reducing bias, providing notice to consumers, and requiring court orders for individual tracking will not prevent the grave consequences of face surveillance, particularly on vulnerable communities. Those safeguards will do nothing to stop the government from developing face surveillance systems that allow for general and widespread monitoring and tracking. Microsoft should not be helping to build this future.

Microsoft should listen to its employees, the public, and also take heed of competitor commitments. In June, Microsoft’s own employees called on the company to “take an ethical stand, and put children and families above profits” in deciding how to do business with governments. In recent months, there has been widespread public concern about face surveillance, with dozens of members of Congress, shareholders, and over 150,000 members of the public blowing the whistle on the dangers of face surveillance both to communities and to public trust in companies. In contrast to Microsoft, which is currently selling its Face API product, Google announced in December 2018 that it has not, and will not, sell a facial recognition surveillance product until the technology’s dangers are addressed.

Microsoft has a responsibility to do more than speak about ethical principles; it must also act in accordance with those principles. This means that Microsoft must ensure that there is a meaningful debate about face surveillance before it is in the hands of government. There cannot be a meaningful debate about ethical use of this technology if it is already spreading to government agencies. We call on Microsoft not to provide a face surveillance product to governments.

We look forward to your written response to this letter.

Signed,

American Civil Liberties Union

ACLU Foundations of California

ACLU of Massachusetts

ACLU of Washington

New York Civil Liberties Union 

18MillionRising.org

A New PATH

Access Now

ALIGN (The Alliance for a Greater New York)

American Friends Service Committee

American Muslim Empowerment Network-Muslim Association of Puget Sound

American Muslims of Puget Sound

Arab American Institute

Asian Americans Advancing Justice - AAJC

Asian Americans Advancing Justice- Asian Law Caucus

CAIR San Francisco Bay Area

Californians United for a Responsible Budget

Campaign for Accountability

Casa Latina Center for Media Justice

Center on Policy Initiatives

Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice

Color Of Change

Council on American Islamic Relations, Massachusetts

Council on American-Islamic Relations, California

CREDO Action

Data for Black Lives

Defending Rights & Dissent

Demand Progress

Densho

El Centro de la Raza

 Electronic Frontier Foundation

End Solitary Santa Cruz County

Entre Hermanos

Fair Chance Project

Families for Justice as Healing

Families Belong Together

Fight for the Future

Free Press

Freedom for Immigrants

Freedom of the Press Foundation

Government Accountability Project

Government Information Watch

Grassroots Collaborative

Harrington Investments, Inc.

Harvard Law School National Lawyers Guild

Human Rights Watch

Immigrant Defense Project

Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility

International Committee for Robot Arms Control

John T. Williams Organizing Committee

Justice for Muslims Collective

LAANE (Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy)

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children

Library Freedom Project

Lucy Parsons Labs

Make the Road New York

Media Alliance

Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee of Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Mijente

Muslim Justice League

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

National Immigration Law Center

National Immigration Project of the NLG

National Lawyers Guild - New York City Chapter

National Lawyers Guild - Massachusetts Chapter

New Economy Project

New York Communities for Change

Oakland Privacy

OCCORD (Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development)

OneAmerica

Our Revolution Arlington

Partnership for Working Families

Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College

RAICES

Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project

Restore the Fourth Silicon Valley

Rising Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood

Starting Over, Inc.

SumOfUs

Tenth Amendment Center

The Greenlining Institute

The Legal Aid Society (NYC)

The Project on Government Oversight

Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment

Unitarian Universalist Mass Action

War Resisters League

Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

X-Lab