Increasing Government Control and Repression, Perilous Times, Nations in Distress: Microsoft Probing Israeli Facial Recognition Startup Over Concerns About Surveillance of Palestinians
Company’s investment in AnyVision, which has come under scrutiny following reports that it is used to surveil Palestinians living in the West Bank, was slammed by human rights groups
Reuters Nov 16, 2019 4:42 AM
Microsoft Corp has hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether the use of facial recognition technology developed by an Israeli startup it funded complies with its ethics principles, the company said on Friday.
AnyVision, based outside Tel Aviv, has come under scrutiny following reports by Haaretz’s TheMarker business newspaper and NBC News that its technology is used to surveil Palestinians who live in the occupied West Bank.
AnyVision, which denied to NBC such use of its services, did not respond to a request for comment.
The probe reflects growing unease about facial recognition surveillance in the United States and elsewhere that civil liberties groups say could lead to unfair arrests and limit freedom of expression.
Microsoft announced facial recognition ethics principles last year, saying the company would “advocate for safeguards for people’s democratic freedoms in law enforcement surveillance scenarios and will not deploy facial recognition technology in scenarios that we believe will put these freedoms at risk.”
Microsoft said in a statement that Holder would lead a team from law firm Covington & Burling to conduct the probe. Holder, the top U.S. legal official under former President Barack Obama, was hired by Uber Technologies Inc in 2017 to review claims of sexual harassment.
He did not immediately return a request for comment.
M12, the venture fund of Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft, participated in a $74 million series A investment round that AnyVision announced in June.
NBC had reported that AnyVision’s technology was used within the West Bank and at Israeli border crossings. The company told NBC its software was not used for West Bank surveillance and was deployed at border crossings in a manner similar to U.S. Customs’ use of biometric identification at airports.
Israel faces criticism and a boycott for its occupation and policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.