Microsoft accused of complicity in human rights abuses after helping China develop ‘disturbing’ AI

Marco Rubio urges technology giant to rethink collaboration

Zamira Rahim
Friday 12 April 2019 15:42 BST
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A Microsoft building in Beijing
A Microsoft building in Beijing (Getty)

Marco Rubio has accused Microsoft of being “complicit” in China‘s human rights abuses after the firm’s staff worked with a Chinese university on artificial intelligence research.

Staff at Microsoft Research Asia, based in Beijing, produced three research papers on artificial intelligence and facial analysis in collaboration with researchers linked to China’s National University of Defense Technology.

The institution is run by China’s Central Military Commission, according to the Financial Times, which first reported the story.

Mr Rubio, a US senator who has repeatedly criticised China, told the newspaper that the technology giant should rethink its role in the collaboration.

“It is deeply disturbing that an American company would be actively working with the Chinese military to further build up the government’s surveillance network against its own people – an act that makes them complicit in aiding the Communist Chinese government’s totalitarian censorship apparatus and egregious human rights abuses,” he said.

“The Chinese government and Communist party poses a real and persistent threat to American national and economic security, as well as basic human freedoms.

“American companies must recognise this threat and rethink their role in aiding China.”

In February 2019 a Dutch cybersecurity expert claimed to have discovered that SenseNets Technology, a facial-recognition company, had been tracking the movements of 2.5m people in China’s Xinjiang region.

The province has become notorious in recent years after authorities led a crackdown on Muslim minorities in the area, enabled by an extensive CCTV network and technology to monitor smartphones.

Millions of Uighur Muslims are thought to be incarcerated in re-education camps, where inmates are allegedly forced to eat pork and told to renounce their faith.

China has claimed that the mass camps are boarding schools.

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Ted Cruz, the Republican senator for Texas, also warned against US companies collaborating with Chinese researchers.

“We must ensure that American business interests are not enabling the [Chinese Communist party’s] oppression,” he told the Financial Times.

“Microsoft’s researchers, who are often academics, conduct fundamental research with leading scholars and experts from around the world to advance our understanding of technology,” a Microsoft spokesperson told The Independent.

In each case, the research is guided by our principles, fully complies with US and local laws, and the research is published to ensure transparency so that everyone can benefit from our work.”

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