Microsoft has hired the former U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, to find out whether facial recognition technology, developed by the Israeli firm AnyVision, is being used to identify Palestinians in the West Bank. The move comes after Haaretz and NBC News claimed that the technology was being used for such purposes. Microsoft says the use of the technology in this way would be against its ethical principles.
Microsoft’s venture fund, M12, invested during a $74 million Series A investment round announced by AnyVision back in June. Microsoft’s latest action to hire Holder comes as NBC and Haaretz claimed that AnyVision technology was used with the West Bank and at border crossings with Israel. AnyVision responded by saying that its software isn’t used in the West Bank but that it is used at border crossings.
Commenting on the matter, Microsoft said:
“[Microsoft will] advocate for safeguards for people’s democratic freedoms in law enforcement surveillance scenarios and will not deploy facial recognition technology in scenarios that we believe will put these freedoms at risk.”
This investigation will not be the first time that Eric Holder has worked for a tech company. Since leaving his government post under the Obama administration, Holder has worked for Uber in 2017 to review claims of sexual harassment. After his investigation at Uber, Holder recommended that the firm review and reallocate then-CEO Travis Kalanick’s responsibilities, put more emphasis on diversity and performance reviews, and to set up an independent chair and oversight committee to handle ethical issues.
Holder took about four months to do his work at Uber and provide his feedback. It’s unclear how long it’ll be until we hear anything about his work at Microsoft but six months would be a reasonable guess.