In January 2020, Microsoft employees and Palestinian activists organized to protest the company’s affiliation with AnyVision, an Israeli security developer that allegedly surveils Palestinians in the West Bank. As Monica Nickelsburg reported for GeekWire, “The demonstration is the latest example of employee activism within the tech industry and growing public concern about how facial recognition technology is used in surveillance.”
Through its M12 venture capital fund, Microsoft has a financial interest in AnyVision. In October 2019, NBC News reported that an Israeli military surveillance project used AnyVision’s technology to monitor Palestinians in the West Bank. AnyVision has denied its technology is used this way. In response, Microsoft hired former US Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct a private audit of AnyVision. In December 2018, Microsoft president Brad Smith had asserted that the company supported “safeguards for people’s democratic freedoms in law enforcement surveillance scenarios” and it does not “deploy facial recognition technology in scenarios that we believe will put those freedoms at risk.”
According to the protesters, “Palestinians under Israeli military occupation do not enjoy democratic freedoms—and AnyVision’s technology only further limits their right to privacy and freedom of movement.” Under Israeli occupation, Palestinians suffer daily human rights violations, according to Amnesty International USA.
Although the story of Microsoft funding AnyVision and the subsequent surveillance of Palestinians has been covered by Bloomberg, Forbes, and NBC News, in June, August, and October of 2019 respectively, there has been no corporate media coverage of the January 2020 protests by Microsoft employees and Palestinian activists. GeekWire goes beyond the corporate media coverage, reporting the details of the protestors’ plans to deliver 75,000 petitions to one of Microsoft’s campuses in Redmond, Washington. With #DropAnyVision plastered on banners, trucks, and all over social media, this campaign calls for mainstream attention.
Source: Monica Nickelsburg, “Palestinian Activists and Microsoft Employees Demand Company Cut Ties with AnyVision, Citing Civil Rights Violations,” GeekWire, January 29, 2020, www.geekwire.com/2020/palestinian-activists-microsoft-employees-demand-company-cut-ties-anyvision-citing-civil-rights-violations/.
Student Researchers: Nicole Boyson, Nora MacLellan, and Daniel Murphy (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)