Amid the current need to continually focus on the COVID-19 crisis, it is understandably hard to address other important issues. But, on March 31st, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed landmark facial recognition legislation that the state legislature passed on March 12, less than three weeks, but seemingly an era, ago. Nonetheless, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the importance of this step. This legislation represents a significant breakthrough – the first time a state or nation has passed a new law devoted exclusively to putting guardrails in place for the use of facial recognition technology.

For more on Washington's privacy legislation, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium to provide COVID-19 researchers worldwide with access to the world's most powerful resources that can significantly advance the pace of scientific discovery in the fight to stop the virus. As part of Microsoft's AI for Health program, the company will provide grants to ensure additional access for researchers to our Azure cloud and high-performance computing capabilities.

Read more at Microsoft On The Issues.

Microsoft and partners across 35 countries took coordinated legal and technical steps to disrupt one of the world's most prolific botnets, called Necurs, which has infected more than nine million computers globally. This disruption is the result of eight years of tracking and planning and will help ensure the criminals behind this network are no longer able to use key elements of its infrastructure to execute cyberattacks.

Read more about how Microsoft is working to keep businesses and consumers safe online at Microsoft On The Issues.

As the world grapples with COVID-19, local officials and businesses in the Puget Sound are taking necessary and unprecedented steps to protect public health, ease anxiety and prevent the spread of the virus. While these moves to stem COVID-19 are critical, they come with an economic and societal price.

Last week, it announced in the Puget Sound region that it has asked its employees who can work from home to do so. While reducing the number of people on campuses has also reduced the need for onsite support from hourly workers supporting our operations, Microsoft will continue to pay them their regular wages, whether their services are needed or not.

Additionally, Microsoft will partner with the two largest broad-based regional foundations to strengthen the community's safety net through this crisis. The Seattle Foundation, United Way of King County, Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks, in coordination with King County and the City of Seattle, will launch a regional COVID-19 Response Fund (CRF) to address the emerging community needs of COVID-19. Microsoft is making an initial $1 million anchor donation to help launch this effort immediately.

To read more visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Microsoft's Digital Civility Index stands at 70%, the highest reading of perceived online incivility since the survey began in 2016, and the first time the DCI has reached the 70th percentile. Moreover, the equally troubling trends of emotional and psychological pain ­– and negative consequences that follow online-risk exposure – both also increased significantly.

Physical appearance and politics are the primary drivers of online incivility, with 31% of all respondents pointing to both of these two topics as problematic. Sexual orientation was close behind at 30%, while religion and race came in at 26% and 25% respectively. On the plus side, according to this latest study, people seemed encouraged by the advent of the new decade and what the 2020s may hold in terms of improved online civility among all age groups.

Read more at Microsoft On The Issues.

Last week, in Fulton, WI, together with election officials from the state of Wisconsin and the election technology company VotingWorks, Microsoft piloted ElectionGuard in an actual election for the first time.

As voters in Fulton cast ballots in a primary election for Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates, the official count was tallied using paper ballots as usual. However, ElectionGuard also provided an encrypted digital tally of the vote that enabled voters to confirm their votes have been counted and not altered. The pilot is one step in a deliberate and careful process to get ElectionGuard right before it's used more broadly across the country.

Read more about the process at Microsoft On The Issues.

In December 2013, a boy was playing in the hollow of a tree near his home in Meliandou, a remote village in the West African country of Guinea. The tree was home to a colony of bats that carried a virus – Ebola. Over the next two-and-a-half years, more than 28,600 cases of Ebola were reported, with 11,325 of those fatal.

Rapid-onset cases such as this put vulnerable communities at risk because aid agencies and authorities don't have the data they require. Not being able to find villages and settlements; not knowing where roads lead; and not being able to say with certainty where people may have encountered infected individuals hampered aid efforts. Although there are very few completely unmapped parts of the world, not all places have been mapped in the same level of detail. The need for accurate data is what drives the work of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, a Microsoft AI for Humanitarian Action program grantee.

Read More at Microsoft On The Issues.

The health of people and communities around the world has been improving over time. However, progress has not been equal across the globe, and there is a great need to focus on societal issues such as reducing health inequity and improving access to care for underserved populations. While researchers work to unlock life-saving discoveries and develop new approaches to pressing health issues, advancements in technology can help accelerate and scale new solutions.

That is why last week Microsoft launched AI for Health, a new $40 million, five-year program to empower researchers and organizations with AI to improve the health of people and communities around the world. The program is underpinned with a strong foundation of privacy, security and ethics, and was developed in collaboration with leading health experts who are driving important medical initiatives. AI for Health is the fifth Microsoft AI for Good program, a $165 million initiative to empower researchers, nonprofits and organizations with advanced technologies to help unlock solutions to the biggest challenges facing society today.

Read more at Microsoft On The Issues.