Microsoft has hired a law firm to conduct an independent review of the human rights and surveillance impacts of its contracts with law enforcement, including federal immigration agencies and the New York Police Department, following pressure from activist shareholder group Open Mic.
Law firm Foley Hoag will design the report and will retain full editorial control, and the report should be published online in late 2022, according to an emailed statement from the activist investors involved in pressing for the commitment.
Open Mic has coordinated a range of activist shareholder proposals at large tech companies that try to force the companies to address questions about the ethical use of technology and how workers are treated internally. The original Microsoft shareholder proposal from Open Mic aimed to force the company to hire an independent third-party to evaluate whether Microsoft's contracts with government agencies comply with the company's stated commitment to human rights principles. The proposal alleged that the company's contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement helped perpetuate discriminatory policing against immigrants, and that Microsoft's partnerships with the NYPD helped further warrantless surveillance through a program known as the Domain Awareness System.
Open Mic is pushing for two additional shareholder votes at Microsoft, one that would end the sale of facial recognition technology to government agencies and another that would force Microsoft to explain whether its lobbying activities align with the company's professed values around racial justice, artificial intelligence and public policy.
"In response to shareholder requests, Microsoft Corp. will commission an independent, third-party assessment to 'identify, understand, assess, and address actual or potential adverse human rights impacts' of the company's products and services and business relationships with regard to law enforcement, immigration enforcement, and other government contracts," a Microsoft spokesperson wrote in a statement to Protocol. "The report will be made public. This report will identify broad considerations to help inform our ongoing work with government agencies, it is not a review of specific contracts."