Analysis |

By Providing Face-recognition Software, Israeli High-tech Is on the Wrong Side of Justice

Unlike the employees of Google, who protested selling face-recognition technology, Israeli developers ignore their technology’s use in monitoring civilian populations

Amitai Ziv
Amitai Ziv
"ייתכן שהטכנולוגיה משמשת לתפיסת מחבלים, אבל היא חלק מפרויקט שרומס את זכויות האדם של הפלסטינים"
Screenshot from video showcasing Anyvision face-recognition technology.Credit: Youtube screenshot
Amitai Ziv
Amitai Ziv

Microsoft is ostensibly a liberal company. It spearheads the fight in the tech arena for equal rights for single-sex couples, it hired the first float in Tel Aviv’s pride parade, and its website elaborates extensively on global diversity and inclusion in employment.

But the company’s employees should know, in case they don’t, that the company recently invested in surveillance technology that is used to monitor an entire population. It monitors not only suspects, but also innocent people in a certain militarily occupied territory.

>> Read more: This Israeli face-recognition startup is secretly tracking PalestiniansSurveillance, political threats, daily discrimination: What it’s like to be a Palestinian citizen in Israel | Opinion

The employees of Qualcomm should also know that it invested in the very same company, as did the U.S. venture capital fund Lightspeed. The company in question, Anyvision, employs roughly 30 scientists from Belfast who presumably know a thing or two about occupation and bloody conflicts. These are all on the side of injustice.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 34Credit: Haaretz

The state may use Anyvision technology to catch terrorists, of course, but the technology is part of a project trampling Palestinian rights and wouldn’t just pass without criticism in a law-abiding nation. There are no such systems in the streets of Tel Aviv, for example, and if there had been, there would have been a justifiable howl of protest. Nor would a system of the sort be thinkable inside Jewish settlement in said territory, even if it had security benefits.

Mass surveillance in general and facial identification technology in particular arouse difficult ethical questions, and warrant open public debate.

The gap between the engineers of Silicon Valley and the engineers in Israel at these companies is mystifying. Engineers in Silicon Valley aren’t afraid to take a moral position. Take the Google employees who protested in 2018 against the company selling facial-recognition technology to the Pentagon and police.

The engineers in Israel, however, are indifferent to the Israeli army’s use of the technology they develop. With a few exceptions - Israeli high-tech is consistent in ignoring issues outside the general consensus.

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