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AnyVision exec responds to facial recognition controversy

AnyVision exec responds to facial recognition controversy

As biometric companies, particularly those providing facial recognition technology, face scrutiny over their practices and ethics against the backdrop of a public dialogue about the need for regulation, public image and clear communication will be vital to those companies for their perspectives to be genuinely considered.

With this in mind, the reaction of AnyVision CEO Eylon Etshtein to questions from an NBC News reporter are puzzling, and could be deeply troubling for industry stakeholders.

A source told NBC News that a secret Israeli military project using facial recognition from AnyVision inside the occupied West Bank is nicknamed “Google Ayosh,” referring to the ability to search for people in the occupied territories. Microsoft, which is an AnyVision investor, has already faced criticism over the project.

When asked about “Google Ayosh” by an NBC News reporter, Etshtein reportedly threatened to sue the media outlet and claimed that AnyVision is the “most ethical company known to man.” He also said that the West Bank is not occupied, and suggested the reporter is funded by Palestinian activists. He subsequently apologized, and declined to comment.

Later, AnyVision issued a statement “affirmatively denying” that it is involved in any project that it has not already acknowledged, referring to border checkpoint implementations.

NBC News also reports that AnyVision’s technology is used by police in East Jerusalem, where the population is roughly 60 percent Palestinian. AnyVision won the Israel Defense Prize for its efforts to improve state security, according to the report.

Microsoft says it will end any relationship found to violate its ethical principles for the use of facial recognition, while AnyVision says all of its installations have been examined and evaluated against Microsoft’s principles and its own.

In an email to Biometric Update, AnyVision Chief Commercial Officer Max Constant defended the company’s practices and sought to clarify both its use and AnyVision’s position on ethical use and regulation of facial recognition.

“At AnyVision, we believe it is our duty to ensure our technology and products are used responsibly to benefit the safety of society. We do not, and will not, tolerate unlawful or unethical usage of our technology,” Constant writes. “Recent coverage by NBC regarding use of our technology in Israel is factually incorrect. AnyVision, through multiple on the record conversations has made it clear to the article’s author that AnyVision’s facial recognition technology is not being used for surveillance in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, nor is it being used by Israeli police to track suspects through the Israel-controlled streets of East Jerusalem. Our technology is used at checkpoints into and out of Israel to improve security and for ease of entry and exit for ALL individuals, similar to Global Entry at airports in the United States. Furthermore, AnyVision does not maintain a data repository nor does the company have access to any of the data associated with the use of its technology.

“We are in complete agreement that AI facial recognition technology should be treated with extreme caution. We actively advocate for regulation of these technologies to ensure their safe use around the world. We are proud of that track record. We have supported the proposed facial recognition legislation in the U.S. Senate and will continue to advocate for regulations in geographies where we do business.”

Constant also reiterated that the company’s deployments are compared against its own principles and Microsoft’s, and states that all AnyVision contracts are subject to terms and conditions, which it monitors and enforces.

If AnyVision technology is found to have been operated inside the West Bank, either with or without Microsoft’s knowledge, it will presumably destroy any credibility on the matter Microsoft has worked to build.

This story was updated on November 1 at 9:16 am Eastern time to include the statement from AnyVision.

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