Civil rights groups urge Microsoft to end NYPD partnership

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Eighteen activist and civil rights groups are urging Microsoft to end a technology partnership with the New York City Police Department.

The privacy advocacy group Surveillance Technology Oversight Project published a letter from the coalition on Tuesday describing Microsoft’s work with the NYPD on the so-called Domain Awareness System as contributing to the “warrantless spying” of citizens.

The groups alleged that while Microsoft “sought public accolades” for a recent decision to temporarily stop selling facial-recognition technologies to law enforcement, the company “never profited from that technology to begin with.” 

More concerning, the groups believe, is Microsoft’s deal with the NYPD to provide tools that aggregate and analyze data from license plate readers and video cameras, among other sources. The police are “set to spend $31.4 million” this year on the project, which debuted in 2012, the letter said.

“The DAS is the backbone of the NYPD’s surveillance of communities of color, putting countless New Yorkers at risk of police encounters, false arrests, and even police violence,” the letter said.

Microsoft declined to comment to Fortune.

The killing of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd while being restrained by a white police officer has reignited questions about law enforcement using artificial intelligence technologies. Activists and some A.I. researchers are concerned about A.I. technologies being prone to bias and police departments misusing them. 

In recent weeks, tech giants IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft have paused the sale of facial-recognition technologies to police departments. Now activists are calling on the tech giants to stop selling other kinds of software to law enforcement over fears that the tools may be used to over-police nonwhite communities.

“Microsoft can’t ask to be applauded for its values while it still profits off the surveillance-to-prison pipeline,” the letter said. “Please join us in saying that no city should be surveilled the way the DAS tracks New York and end your sale and support of this product.” 

Organizations that signed the letter include Fight for the Future, Immigrant Defense Project, Oakland Privacy, the Reverend Al Sharpton–founded National Action Network, and TechActivist.Org.

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