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Microsoft has turned down California agency and foreign government contracts for facial biometrics


A California law enforcement agency was denied the use of Microsoft biometric facial recognition technology in car and body cameras due to human rights concerns, according to company President Brad Smith. Reuters reports that Microsoft determined the unequal performance of the technology would lead to women and visible minorities being disproportionately held for questioning.

Smith was addressing an audience at Stanford University’s Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence symposium, and said the agency, which he declined to name, intended to perform a biometric match on anyone pulled over. He also said that Microsoft has turned down a deal with a country considered not free by the non-profit Freedom House. That project was for a surveillance camera blanketing the country’s capital city, and Smith said it would have affected freedom of assembly.

A deployment to an American prison was approved by the company, Smith said, due to the limited scope and potential for improved safety.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile, urged companies to consider human rights when developing new technology in the same presentation.

Smith referred to Microsoft declining biometrics business on human rights grounds during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum earlier this year, and specifically mentioned countries where human rights may not be observed and potential discrimination risks in U.S. law enforcement applications in a blog post on operationalizing its principles for responsible facial recognition use. The company was recently forced to distance itself from Chinese firm SenseNets, which is a partner in a massive project to track people from the Uighur ethnic minority.

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