Mi­crosoft re­views Is­raeli fa­cial recog­ni­tion com­pany

The National - News - - NEWS -

Mi­crosoft is in­ves­ti­gat­ing an Is­raeli fa­cial recog­ni­tion start-up over con­cerns that it is us­ing tech­nol­ogy to con­duct mass sur­veil­lance of Pales­tini­ans in the oc­cu­pied West Bank.

Mi­crosoft said for­mer US at­tor­ney gen­eral Eric Holder will lead a team to re­view its in­vest­ment in the com­pany.

Its aim is to de­ter­mine whether Is­raeli com­pany AnyVi­sion’s tech­nol­ogy ap­pli­ca­tions com­ply with Mi­crosoft’s eth­i­cal prin­ci­ples against us­ing fa­cial recog­ni­tion for mass sur­veil­lance.

AnyVi­sion an­nounced a $74 mil­lion (Dh271.7m) in­vest­ment in June from a group in­clud­ing Mi­crosoft’s venture cap­i­tal arm. The com­pany and its Mi­crosoft back­ing at­tracted pub­lic scru­tiny be­cause the Is­raeli mil­i­tary in­stalled face scan­ners at bor­der cross­ings where Pales­tini­ans en­ter Is­rael from the West Bank.

AnyVi­sion said its tech­nol­ogy is used at bor­der cross­ings in a way sim­i­lar to how fa­cial recog­ni­tion is used at some air­ports.

AnyVi­sion, based out­side Tel Aviv, has come un­der scru­tiny in re­ports by Haaretz news­pa­per and NBC News say­ing that its tech­nol­ogy is used to mon­i­tor Pales­tini­ans who live in the West Bank, in­clud­ing po­ten­tial as­sailants. Many Pales­tinian at­tacks have taken place against Is­raeli sol­diers there.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­flects grow­ing un­ease about fa­cial recog­ni­tion sur­veil­lance in the US and else­where that civil lib­er­ties groups say could lead to un­fair ar­rests and limit free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

Mi­crosoft an­nounced eth­i­cal prin­ci­ples for fa­cial recog­ni­tion last year, say­ing the com­pany would “ad­vo­cate for safe­guards for peo­ple’s demo­cratic free­doms in law-en­force­ment sur­veil­lance sce­nar­ios and will not use fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy in sce­nar­ios that we be­lieve will put these free­doms at risk”.

M12, the venture fund of Mi­crosoft, par­tic­i­pated in the $74m se­ries A in­vest­ment round that AnyVi­sion an­nounced in June. The for­mer head of Mos­sad, Tamir Pardo, is on the com­pany’s ad­vi­sory board.

Is­rael faces crit­i­cism and a boy­cott for the oc­cu­pa­tion and its poli­cies to­wards Pales­tini­ans.

AnyVi­sion in Au­gust said it would an­nounce an ethics ad­vi­sory board and that it had a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pre­vent its tech­nol­ogy’s abuse. At the same time, it touted how fa­cial recog­ni­tion speeds up bor­der cross­ings while help­ing law en­force­ment to spot crim­i­nals.

Mi­crosoft it­self mar­kets a fa­cial recog­ni­tion tool and backed a US Se­nate bill, an­nounced on Thurs­day, that would re­quire a court or­der be­fore fed­eral law en­force­ment could use the tech­nol­ogy for tar­geted, on­go­ing sur­veil­lance.

Neema Singh Gu­liani, se­nior leg­isla­tive coun­sel for the American Civil Lib­er­ties Union, said the bill “falls woe­fully short of pro­tect­ing peo­ple’s pri­vacy rights”.

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