Israel using AI facial recognition, CCTV to 'entrench apartheid': Amnesty

Israel using AI facial recognition, CCTV to 'entrench apartheid': Amnesty
3 min read
02 May, 2023
Israeli forces are increasingly using facial recognition technology and AI algorithms to clamp down on the rights and privacy of Palestinians living under occupation, a new Amnesty report has found.

Israel is using experimental facial recognition technology to entrench its digital apartheid of Palestinians, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

The global rights group's new report, Automated Apartheid, details how Israel is using an experimental system known as Red Wolf to track Palestinians living under occupation and restrict their movements.

Red Wolf is deployed at army checkpoints to scan the faces of Palestinians and store their data without consent.

"The Israeli authorities are using sophisticated surveillance tools to supercharge segregation and automate apartheid against Palestinians," said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

"In the H2 area of Hebron, we documented how a new facial recognition system called Red Wolf is reinforcing draconian restrictions on Palestinians' freedom of movement, using illegitimately acquired biometric data to monitor and control Palestinians' movements around the city."

The H2 area of Hebron, which is home to around 33,000 Palestinians and 800 illegal Israeli settlers, is under the direct control of Israeli authorities. Palestinians in H2 are barred from using roads that are exclusively for Israeli settlers and are forced to use checkpoints that Israelis are not required to.

Algorithms of apartheid

According to Amnesty, evidence suggests that the Red Wolf facial recognition system used at Hebron's checkpoints is linked to the Israeli military's Wolf Pack and Blue Wolf surveillance systems.

The Wolf Pack database contains personal data on Palestinians in the occupied territories, including their addresses, family details, and whether they are wanted for interrogation. The Blue Wolf app is used by Israeli occupation forces to access data from Wolf Pack.

Palestinians processed through the Red Wolf system have their data compared with information stored on the Wolf Pack database, according to Amnesty. Those who are flagged or have no previous data profile on the system can be refused entry or detained. New data entries are also created at the checkpoints.

An Israeli commander deployed in Hebron told Breaking the Silence - a collective of Israeli army veterans who have exposed the military's abuse against Palestinians - that soldiers have been ordered to optimise Red Wolf's facial recognition algorithm so that it can operate without human intervention.

Amnesty has also discovered, through the testimonies of soldiers, how Israel has incentivised the collection of data for soldiers.

Climate of fear

Amnesty's report documents how facial recognition has been used in coordination with Israel's huge network of CCTV cameras in occupied East Jerusalem.

The cameras have been deployed in areas where Palestinians often gather and mobilise for protests, including around the Old City and Sheikh Jarrah. In a 100 square-kilometre area of East Jerusalem examined by Amnesty, one to two cameras were found in every five metre stretch.

Palestinian residents of Hebron and East Jerusalem told Amnesty of how they live under Israeli surveillance in a constant state of fear, with their privacy constantly invaded by the occupation.

"I'm being watched the whole time… it gives me a really bad feeling everywhere in the street. Every time I see a camera, I feel anxious. Like you are always being treated as if you are a target," a local resident, Neda, told Amnesty.

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The rights group was unable to identify the technology firms behind the facial recognition technology, however, it found that several of the cameras were made by Chinese firm Hikvision and Dutch firm TKH Security.

Amnesty urged both firms to ensure that their products are not used to "entrench Israel’s system of apartheid against Palestinians", and urged a global ban on facial recognition for surveillance purposes.

It also called on Israel to an end to its mass and targeted surveillance of Palestinians, as well as curbs on their freedoms of movement.