AnyVision facial biometrics not powering mass surveillance in West Bank but Microsoft to divest stake
Microsoft is divesting its stake in AnyVision, due to a change in its investment policy and despite an audit finding that the company’s biometric facial recognition technology is not deployed to a mass surveillance system in the West Bank.
According to a joint statement from Microsoft and AnyVision, the audit by a team from Covington & Burling led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder found that media reports that the company was powering a secret biometric surveillance system “deep inside the West Bank”, which would be a violation of the Microsoft Global Finance Portfolio Company Pledge on Facial Recognition, were not true previously or currently.
AnyVision Chief Commercial Officer Max Constant told Biometric Update in an email in late-2019 that the company believes in its duty to ensure its technology is used responsibly, and that it is only used at checkpoints. The company has previously said its installations had been evaluated against the principles held by both it and Microsoft, and its CEO had a contentious exchange with an NBC reporter in the aftermath of the initial reports about the West Bank deployment.
The audit included interviews with AnyVision employees and third parties, according to the law firm, along with reviews of company records, technical specifications, product demonstrations, and a visit to AnyVision facilities.
Despite the audit’s findings, the process “reinforced the challenges of being a minority investor in a company that sells sensitive technology.”
According to the announcement by Microsoft’s venture fund M12, “such investments do not generally allow for the level of oversight or control that Microsoft exercises over the use of its own technology.”
In order to exercise the degree of oversight and control it deems necessary, Microsoft is changing its investment policies to end minority stakes in companies selling facial biometrics, and instead will focus on commercial relationships for sensitive technologies.
M12 participated in AnyVision’s $74 million Series A round last year, just a month before the Haaretz article alleging the West Bank implementation.