This week has transcended the existence of asofficial surveillance program of the Israeli army that encourages soldiers to photograph all Palestinians in the occupied territories, including women, children and the elderly, and enter the images into a database that allows the West Bank population to be identified and monitored at all times.
The program has been revealed by a report from The Washington Post that collects statements from soldiers who have participated in that company and have reported it to Breaking the silence, a Israeli NGO made up of ex-military anti-occupation, from anonymity to avoid being identified and punished by the authorities.
The program pours facial recognition into a network of cameras and smartphones that is incorporated into a repository called Blue Wolf, with whose database the photographs are contrasted. The program responds by emitting colors that they alert the soldiers to tell them whether the person in question should be detained, arrested immediately, or ignored.
Breaking the Silence’s Ori Givati reveals there is “an extremely invasive digital surveillance system”
Soldiers colloquially call the program the “Palestinians Facebook“Its leaders encourage soldiers to photograph all kinds of Palestinians and incorporate the images into Blue Wolf on a daily basis. Soldiers compete with each other to take more photographs and those who do more receive rewards, such as permits.
The number of photographs taken is not known, although the objective is to accumulate as many as possible so that the majority of the Palestinian population is registered in the database. Until now it was known that the program existed but the data they provide The Washington Post and Breaking the silence indicate that it is much broader than previously believed.
Ori Givati, one of those responsible for Breaking the Silence, confirms that the latest investigation carried out by this NGO “reveals the existence of a digital surveillance system extremely invasive used by Israeli soldiers to persecute the Palestinian civilian population in the occupied territories. “
In Hebron, in the southern West Bank, cameras have been installed at military checkpoints in this city, at the heart of which hundreds of radical Jewish settlers reside. Cameras Identify Palestinians before they present their ID cards and an extensive closed-loop network monitors their movements.
The military chiefs tell the soldiers that the surveillance program is necessary to pprotect Israel from terrorismAlthough the soldiers who have denounced it point out that it has a scope that goes beyond the fight against terrorism. One of the soldiers interviewed commented that it constitutes “a complete violation of the privacy of an entire people.”
European parliament urges to ban the use of facial recognition by police in public places
According to the organization of civil rights AccessNow, Israel’s use of surveillance and facial recognition is among the most elaborate deployments of this technology worldwide to control a population.
The army refuses to give explanations about the program and assures that the surveillance of the Palestinians are “routine security operations“that they are part of the” fight against terrorism “, and that the military” strives to improve the quality of life of the Palestinian population. “
This November the European Parliament urged to ban the use of facial recognition by the police in public places, an issue that worries many Europeans who consider that it restricts the freedom of citizens. In at least a dozen US cities, including Boston and San Francisco, the use of facial recognition technology has also been banned for the same reasons.
The debate on this question is more and more alive in the West. Also in the US, where the police and other security agencies insist on the need to use facial recognition. An official study carried out in the US indicates that a score of government agencies in that country use technology of this type because it helps them identify suspects during protests. Those who defend the use of this technology argue that its prohibition will undermine the fight “against crime and terrorism” in Europe.
Within Israel, the movement of a sector of the government, the police and the secret services that wants to introduce facial recognition cameras in certain parts of the country is observed, but at the same time other sectors, such as the privacy protection agency, are opposed to the project. Naturally, Israel it applies very different criteria in the occupied territories.
“We no longer feel comfortable socializing because the cameras are always filming us,” said the 49-year-old Palestinian.
Israel Civil Rights Association lawyer Roni Pelli believes the military should “give up immediately“of a program that systematically violates fundamental rights of civilians.” While developed countries impose restrictions on photography, facial recognition and surveillance, the situation described (in Hebron) constitutes a serious violation of basic rights such as the right to freedom of privacy, while soldiers are encouraged to take as many photos as possible of men, women and children in a kind of competition. “
Hebron’s neighbor Yaser Abu Marjiah, a father of four, told The Washington Post that since the 1967 war, when Israel occupied the West Bank, life has become more difficult for Palestinians in the city and that the new digital surveillance has taken away the civilians the last vestiges of privacy.
“We no longer feel comfortable socializing because the cameras they are always filming us“said this 49-year-old Palestinian. And he added that he no longer lets his children go out to play at the door of his house and that his relatives who live in areas with fewer cameras avoid visiting you at home.