Israel Continues To Violate Human Rights With Facial Recognition Programs

An Israeli soldier said the Israeli military has created a vast database of photos and information to monitor and escalate surveillance over Palestinians living in the West Bank, The Washington Post reported on Monday. The surveillance initiative utilizes smartphone technology and has been in operation for the past two years.

“I once warned that the architecture of oppression was near. It has arrived” Edward Snowden, a former computer intelligence consultant, tweeted commenting on the Israeli military’s surveillance efforts in the West Bank.

The surveillance programs use a facial recognition technology known as “Blue Wolf”. In accordance with this technology, it captures photos of the Palestinians and matches them to the database of images owned by the Israeli military. The phone app flashes into colors to alert soldiers if a person has to be arrested or detained or let free.

“We receive color-coded indications for each individual. Yellow means that the person must be detained, red means that he must be arrested and green means that he can be let through,” a former soldier told Breaking the Silence.

One of the Israeli soldiers named this technology as a secret “Facebook for Palestinians” used to escalate surveillance over innocent Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank.

“Behind Israel’s high-tech success lie gross human rights abuses. Millions of Palestinians live under a military regime that uses all forms of repressive technologies to control and oppress an entire population. The surveillance of Palestinians knows to end, legal or otherwise,” tweeted Marwa Fatafta, MENA Policy Manager and a political analyst.

To build a vast database for the Palestinians, Israeli soldiers competed last year in photographing Palestinians including children and the elders. Prizes were given for the most pictures collected by each unit. The total number of people photographed is unclear but at a minimum in thousands.

Adding insult to injury, the Israeli military installed face-scanning cameras to let soldiers at checkpoints identify Palestinians even before showing their ID cards. In addition to a wide network of closed-circuit television cameras, called “Hebron Smart City”, that provides real-time monitoring of the city. A soldier once said he can sometimes see into private homes, violating all forms of privacy.

The Israeli soldiers were brainwashed by the military that these efforts were made to defend Israel against terrorists and the surveillance technologies are already being used behind the scenes in places where people have fewer freedoms.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable if they used it in the mall in [my hometown], let’s put it that way,” said a discharged Israeli soldier who served in an intelligence unit. “People worry about fingerprinting, but this is that several times over.” She told The Post that she was motivated to speak out because the surveillance system in Hebron was a “total violation of the privacy of an entire people.”

On a side note, western democracies have banned the official use of face recognition technologies in public areas. In the United States, face recognition technologies were banned in cities as Boston and San Francisco, according to the advocacy group the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. Besides, the European Parliament called for banning the use of face recognition technologies in public places.

“While developed countries around the world impose restrictions on photography, facial recognition, and surveillance, the situation described [in Hebron] constitutes a severe violation of basic rights, such as the right to privacy, as soldiers are incentivized to collect as many photos of Palestinian men, women, and children as possible in a sort of competition,” said Roni Pelli, a lawyer with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. She added, “military must immediately desist.”

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