General Intelligence

A Microsoft Employee Literally Wrote Washington’s Facial Recognition Law

Plus, live facial recognition updates and the week’s A.I. research

Dave Gershgorn
Published in
4 min readApr 3, 2020
A display shows a facial recognition system for law enforcement during an NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Welcome to General Intelligence, your weekly dive into the A.I. news and research that matters.

TTuesday should have been a win for privacy advocates. Washington state signed SB 6280 into law, making it the first state in the country to pass a facial recognition bill, which outlines how the government can and cannot use the technology.

But a closer look reveals the bill’s flaws. The law does little to curtail government use of facial recognition, instead setting up basic transparency and accountability mechanisms for when the state does decide to deploy dystopian real-time surveillance.

The bill has little impact on the commercial development or sale of facial recognition technology. The bill doesn’t limit sales to law enforcement, or even hold companies responsible for the outcomes of their algorithms.

The bill was sponsored by State Senator Joe Nguyen, who is currently employed as a program manager by Microsoft

It’s no surprise then that the bill was championed by Microsoft in public and behind closed doors. In fact, the bill was literally sponsored by State Senator Joe Nguyen, who is currently employed as a program manager by Microsoft.

I’m not a fan of the phrase “Let that sink in,” but you really do have to take a minute and think about that one.

The ACLU of Washington wrote a strong rebuttal of the law, which is set to take effect in July, saying that anything short of a facial recognition ban will not safeguard civil liberties.

“Alternative regulations supported by big tech companies and opposed by impacted communities do not provide adequate protections — in fact, they threaten to legitimize the infrastructural expansion of powerful face surveillance technology,” ACLU project manager Jennifer Lee wrote. “This is why we strongly opposed SB 6280, which purports to put safeguards around the use of facial recognition technology but does just the opposite.”



Dave Gershgorn

Senior Writer at OneZero covering surveillance, facial recognition, DIY tech, and artificial intelligence. Previously: Qz, PopSci, and NYTimes.