Microsoft has invested in a startup that uses facial recognition to spy on Palestinians throughout the West Bank, in spite of the tech giant’s public pledge to avoid using the technology if it encroaches on democratic freedoms.
AnyVision, which is headquartered in Israel but has offices in the USA, Singapore and UK, sells an “advanced tactical surveillance” software system, called Better Tomorrow.
It lets customers identify individuals and objects in any live camera feed, such as a security camera or a smartphone, and then track targets as they move between different feeds.
According to five sources familiar with the matter, AnyVision’s technology powers a secret military surveillance project throughout the West Bank.
One source said the project is nicknamed “Google Ayosh,” which means occupied Palestinian territories and “Google” denotes the technology’s ability to search for people.
Palestinians living in the West Bank do not have Israeli citizenship or voting rights but are subject to movement restrictions and surveillance by the Israeli government.
The surveillance project was so successful that AnyVision won the country’s top defense prize in 2018. During the presentation, Israel’s defense minister lauded the company without using its name, for preventing “hundreds of terror attacks” using “large amounts of data.”
The Israeli army has installed thousands of cameras and other monitoring devices across the West Bank to monitor the movements of Palestinians. Security forces and intelligence agencies also scan social media posts and use algorithms in an effort to arrest Palestinians.
The basic premise of a free society is that you shouldn’t be subject to tracking by the government without suspicion of wrongdoing. You are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The widespread use of face surveillance flips the premise of freedom on its head and you start becoming a society where everyone is tracked no matter what they do all the time.
Face recognition is possibly the most perfect tool for complete government control in public spaces, so we need to treat it with extreme caution.
It’s hard to see how using it on a captive population [like Palestinians in the West Bank] could comply with Microsoft’s ethical principles.
When NBC News first approached AnyVision for an interview, CEO Eylon Etshtein denied any knowledge of “Google Ayosh,” threatened to sue NBC News and said that AnyVision was the “most ethical company known to man.
He disputed that the West Bank was “occupied” and questioned the motivation of the NBC News inquiry, suggesting the reporter must have been funded by a Palestinian activist group.
AnyVision’s technology has also been used by Israeli police to track suspects through the Israeli-controlled streets of East Jerusalem, where 3 of 5 residents are Palestinian.
One of the company’s technology demonstrations, a video obtained by NBC News, shows what purports to be live camera feeds monitoring people, including children and women wearing hijabs and abayas, as they walk through Jerusalem.
Microsoft is positioning itself as a moral leader among technology companies, a move that has shielded the company from sustained public criticism faced by others such as Facebook and Google.
Israel Palestine News 2019.