NBC News is reporting that Microsoft has hired Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate AnyVision, an Israeli-based facial recognition firm the company invested in.
AnyVision creates facial recognition software in use by the Israeli military at border crossings. The software is used to log the faces of Palestinians entering Israel. However, according to NBC News, the software is also used to secretly surveil Palestinians throughout the West Bank.
According to NBC News sources, AnyVision’s tech is at the heart of a secret military project, with one of those sources referring to it by the codename “Google Ayosh.” “Ayosh” refers to the West Bank and “Google” is a nod to the kind of powerful search capabilities Google is known for—although the search giant is not involved in the project. Google Ayosh was evidently so successful that it led to AnyVision winning Israel’s top defense prize in 2018.
Microsoft invested $74 million Series A funding in AnyVision in June, through it’s venture capital arm, M12. In the wake of NBC News’ report, however, the company is concerned that AnyVision’s involvement in Google Ayosh may violate its ethical principles for the use of facial recognition: “fairness, transparency, accountability, nondiscrimination, notice and consent, and lawful surveillance.”
Compliance with Microsoft’s facial recognition principles was included as part of the terms of the deal when Microsoft invested, giving them a right to perform the audit.
When NBC News first reported on the surveillance allegations, a Microsoft spokesman said that, if true, “they would violate our facial recognition principles.”
“If we discover any violation of our principles, we will end our relationship.”
At the same time, AnyVision has denied the reports, stating: “All of our installations have been examined and confirmed against not only Microsoft’s ethical principles, but also our own internal rigorous approval process.”
Whatever the case, Holder and a team of former federal prosecutors—currently working at law firm Covington & Burling—will investigate the allegations.