An Israeli artificial intelligence startup with investments from a number of American companies including Microsoft has been linked to the biometric surveillance of Palestinians.
AnyVision is an international tech company based in Israel that raised $78 million in June from an investment group including American tech giant Microsoft. One of their flagship products — dubbed ‘Better Tomorrow’ — is a platform that leverages biometrics and facial recognition software to track objects and people on live video, including across independent camera feeds.
NBC and Israeli news site Haaretz report that this technology is at the centre of a military surveillance operation focused in the West Bank at “at least 27 checkpoints”, according to a statement from the Israeli Defence Forces from February. The aim of the operation is to “upgrade the crossings” and “deter terror attacks” using a network of 1,700 cameras featuring biometric and facial recognition capabilities.
AnyVision Chief Compliance Officer Max Constant denied that the company is aiding in the surveillance of Palestinians, stating that the technology is being used indiscriminately at checkpoints.
“We are in complete agreement that AI facial recognition technology should be treated with extreme caution,” Constant said in a statement. “We actively advocate for regulation of these technologies to ensure their safe use around the world. We are proud of that track record.”
Microsoft also faces potential criticism for its backing of AnyVision and the role their tech is playing in the surveillance operation after a December 2018 post on their official blog by President Brad Smith that outlined the company’s policy on the ethical use of facial recognition technology. The post outlined six key points to steer the tech in an ethical direction including transparency, avoiding discrimination, and the protection of people’s rights to privacy.
Israel updated its privacy laws in 2018 to include a constitutional right to privacy, and the notion that the collection and storing of any information on Israeli citizens be done only with their consent. However, part of the controversy over the use of AnyVision’s tech in the military operation stems from the fact that because Palestinians living in the West Bank don’t hold Israeli citizenship they are not protected by these laws.
This news comes just a few weeks after Chinese tech company Megvii was among 28 entities blacklisted by the U.S. for their role in human rights violations involving the surveillance of muslim minorities in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.
November 1, 2019 – by Tony Bitzionis