Microsoft Drops AnyVision

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Microsoft Drops AnyVision

Let’s begin with some good news amid these dark times. Microsoft recently announced that its divesting its shares from the Israeli facial recognition company AnyVision. After Microsoft invested in the company last June, NBC News reported that AnyVision was surveilling Palestinians in the West Bank. When questioned about this issue, AnyVision CEO Eylon Etshtein denied knowledge of any of such thing and insisted that the West Bank wasn’t actually occupied by Israel.

Last year, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) started a campaign calling on Microsoft to #DropAnyVision, delivering a petition to company headquarters that was signed by over 75,000 people. As a result of the activism, Microsoft hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct an audit to figure out whether AnyVision was complying with its six ethical principles. One of those principles concerns virtual surveillance and states, “We 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.”

Holder’s of team released a report showing that the technology was used at border checkpoints, but questioning the existence of a mass surveillance program. Nonetheless, the fuss was enough to effectively sever the relationship. “For Microsoft, the audit process reinforced the challenges of being a minority investor in a company that sells sensitive technology, since such investments do not generally allow for the level of oversight or control that Microsoft exercises over the use of its own technology,” the company said in a statement.

“At a time when our civil rights are being threatened by authoritarian regimes with access to technology like AnyVision’s facial recognition systems, to have Microsoft walk away from funding them is huge,” said JVP Communications Director Granate Kim in a statement.

Iran Sanctions

A number of prominent lawmakers (including Bernie Sanders and AOC) have called on the Trump administration to lift its sanctions on Iran amid the COVID-19 crisis, which are no doubt worsening the situation there. Last week, the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden was asked about this on Meet the Press and told Chuck Todd he needed more information. Today he’s released a detailed statement on the issue. Here’s some of it:

Specific steps should include: issuing broad licenses to pharmaceutical and medical device companies; creating a dedicated channel for international banks, transportation companies, insurers, and other service firms to help Iranians access life-saving medical treatment; issuing new sanctions guidance to these groups and international aid organizations to make it clear how they can immediately, directly, and legally respond to the tragedy in Iran, without fear of penalty; and, for entities already conducting enhanced due diligence, it should issue comfort letters to reassure them that they will not be subject to U.S. sanctions if they engage in humanitarian trade with Iran to support its COVID-19 response. The administration should also consider similar steps to ensure that U.S. sanctions do not inhibit live-saving medical assistance to other countries hard hit by the virus.

It’s important to note that Biden seems to be asking for temporary sanction relief here and not suggesting that they be ended entirely.

Meanwhile, The Telegraph reports that Britain, France, and Germany are bypassing U.S. sanctions to provide Iran with much-needed medical aid. The financial system that they’re using to get around the sanctions was apparently set up after the Trump administration violated the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

Everyone has been forced to adapt to COVID-19, including groups focused on the the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. A number of organizations have held online interviews, webinars, and virtual rallies since most of us began social distancing. We compiled the video from a bunch of these events at Mondoweiss. If you’re concerned about the current situation in Palestine (and if you’re reading this newsletter, you probably are) I recommend checking some of them out on the site.

Odds & Ends

🇮🇱 Dr. Nihaya Daoud has an incredible (and terrifying) piece in Haaretz on Israel’s refusal to test its Arab population for COVID-19. “At the time of writing not a single drive-through station for coronavirus tests has been set up in Arab communities,” he writes, “The original plan for the drive-through points included seven Jewish communities, and not a single Arab one. Therefore, information about the drive-through plan was published only in Hebrew. The Arabs didn’t hear about these points on time, and due to the distance and the information delay, only a small number of Arabs asked to be tested in the Jewish communities. The paucity of requests led to a decision not to establish drive-through points in Arab communities. Only after the intervention of Arab members of Knesset was a promise made to set them up, but this is being delayed.”

🇵🇸 Here’s some horrifying statistics from Defense for Children International Palestine: “Since March 30, 2018, Israeli forces have killed at least 49 Palestinian children in the context of demonstrations near the Gaza perimeter fence, according to evidence collected by Defense for Children International – Palestine. During the same period, Israeli forces killed an additional 32 Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. In the overwhelming majority of these 81 cases, the children did not pose a direct, mortal threat at the time of their death.”

Two years on, there’s still been no accountability for any of this.

📺 Axios reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Cabinet ministers he’d seen video proof of Iran covering up the extent of their COVID-19 crisis. He sent a horrifying video to the entire cabinet, in which dead bodies are being loaded onto trucks and casually dumped into landfills. It turns out these were actually scenes from the 2007 Hallmark series Pandemic starring Tiffani Thiessen of Saved by the Bell fame.

A poster for the 2007 Hallmark Channel miniseries, "Pandemic"
A poster for the 2007 Hallmark Channel miniseries, “Pandemic”

Take care of each other and wash your hands. We’re all in this together. – Michael