Microsoft hires ex-AG Holder to audit Israeli face-scanning firm

Software giant has come under scrutiny over its investment in AnyVision, whose surveillance technology is used to track Palestinians

A Palestinian man uses a biometric gate as he crosses into Israel at the Qalandiya crossing in Jerusalem, July 11, 2019. (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)
A Palestinian man uses a biometric gate as he crosses into Israel at the Qalandiya crossing in Jerusalem, July 11, 2019. (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)

Microsoft is hiring former US attorney general Eric Holder to review its investment in an Israeli facial recognition startup that scans faces at military checkpoints in the West Bank.

Microsoft said in a statement Friday that Holder will lead a team of former federal prosecutors conducting an audit.

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

Microsoft’s announcement came in the wake of an October 28 MSNBC report on its investment.

In this March 4, 2015 file photo, then-attorney general Eric Holder speaks at the Justice Department. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

AnyVision announced a $74 million investment in June from a group including Microsoft’s venture capital arm.

The firm and its Microsoft backing attracted public scrutiny as the Israeli military installed face scanners at border crossings where Palestinians enter Israel from the West Bank.

Israeli startup AnyVision uses artificial intelligence to recognize faces, bodies and objects for security and other purposes (YouTube screenshot).

A recent report by Israeli business paper The Marker said that the Israeli military also uses technology provided by AnyVision in cameras dotting the Palestinian territories. The cameras and database are being used to identify and track potential Palestinian assailants, the report said.

Another investor in AnyVision is the US semiconductor and telecommunications equipment firm Qualcomm.

AnyVision was founded in 2015 by  Eylon Etshtein and Prof. Neil Roberston and has Tamir Pardo, a former head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, on its advisory board, according to its website.

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