Covington & Burling has completed its audit of the Israeli facial recognition specialist AnyVision. The audit was carried out at the request of Microsoft in an effort to determine whether or not AnyVision’s technology was being used in a mass surveillance scheme of Palestinians in the West Bank, as had been alleged in a series of media reports in late 2019.
Microsoft was a minority investor in AnyVision, and had asked the company to sign the Microsoft Global Finance Portfolio Company Pledge on Facial Recognition before that deal was finalized. A mass surveillance program would represent a breach of that pledge. Microsoft has consistently advocated for oversight and the ethical use of facial recognition, and has previously refused to sell the technology to law enforcement agencies and to government organizations that plan to use it for purposes of mass surveillance.
The AnyVision audit was carried out by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. His team did not find evidence to support the allegations about a mass surveillance program in the West Bank, and concluded that AnyVision had not violated its facial recognition pledge. However, AnyVision did acknowledge that its technology has been deployed at border checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel.
In light of that controversy, Microsoft has decided to divest its interest in AnyVision despite the positive audit result. It will also be changing its global policies to bar minority investment in any company that sells facial recognition tech, largely because Microsoft no longer believes that it has enough control over the use of its own technology as a minority investor. The company will instead opt for more well-defined commercial relationships moving forward.
AnyVision’s technology was previously integrated into the Synergy 3 surveillance platform from Synectics. The company has also teamed up with NVIDIA to develop smart city applications for the government sector.
March 31, 2020 – by Eric Weiss