Israel is increasingly relying on facial recognition in the occupied West Bank to track Palestinians and restrict their passage through key checkpoints, a new report says, suggesting that artificial intelligence-driven surveillance could be used against an ethnic group.
Palestinians stand in front of facial recognition cameras before being allowed to pass at a high fence checkpoint in Hebron. When their faces are scanned, the software, known as Red Wolf, uses a color-coded system of green, yellow and red to guide soldiers on whether to let the person go, prevent them from interrogating or arrest them. Report By Amnesty International. When the technology fails to identify someone, soldiers train the system by adding their personal information to a database.
Israel has long restricted the freedom of movement of Palestinians, but technological advances have given the authorities powerful new tools. It’s the latest example of the global spread of a mass surveillance system that relies on AI learning to recognize faces from vast stores of images.
In Hebron and East Jerusalem, the technology is almost exclusively focused on Palestinians, according to the Amnesty International report, signaling a new approach to automatically controlling the internal borders that separate Palestinian and Israeli lives. Amnesty International calls the process “auto-apartheid”. Israel vehemently denies that it practices apartheid.
“These databases and tools specifically record Palestinian data,” said the report, which is based on accounts from former Israeli soldiers and Palestinians living in the monitored areas, as well as field visits to observe the use of the technology in affected areas.
The IDF, which plays a central role in the occupied West Bank, said in a statement that it conducted “necessary security and intelligence operations, while making significant efforts to minimize harm to the day-to-day activities of the Palestinian people.”
On facial recognition, it added, “Of course, we cannot refer to operational and intelligence capabilities.”
It is rare for a government to use facial recognition technology to so explicitly target a single racial group. In China, companies have developed algorithms to try to identify ethnic minorities as they pass by the country’s ubiquitous cameras. The Chinese government also uses facial recognition checkpoints to control and track the movements of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other ethnic minorities.
Israel uses facial recognition technology at checkpoints on other monitoring systems deployed in recent years. According to Amnesty International, since the 2021 protests in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jala neighborhood over the eviction of Palestinian families, the number of cameras in the area has increased, likely in support of the Israeli government’s video surveillance capable of facial recognition System Mabat 2000 .
Amnesty researchers reported finding one to two cameras every 15 feet during a walk in the area. Some are made by Chinese surveillance camera maker Hikvision, and others by Dutch manufacturer TKH Security.
TKH Security declined to comment. Hikvision did not respond to a request for comment.
Government forces also use cameras on mobile phones. Israeli authorities have a facial recognition app, blue wolfto identify Palestinians, according to Breaking the Silence, which facilitates amnesties and collects testimonies from Israeli soldiers working in the occupied territories.
Soldiers used the app to film Palestinians on the street or during home raids, registering them in a central database and checking whether they were wanted or questioned, according to the 82-page Amnesty report and the silence-breaking testimony. The use of Blue Wolf was earlier introduced by Washington post.
The surveillance is in part to reduce violence against Israelis. This year, Palestinian attackers have killed 19 Israelis. At least 100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces this year, many in gun battles as part of a military operation to arrest Palestinian gunmen. Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan during the Arab-Israeli war and has occupied it since 1967.
Issa Amro, a Palestinian militant in the West Bank city of Hebron, where violence is frequent, said people were constantly under surveillance. He, his friends and family were often stopped by soldiers to take pictures using the Blue Wolf app. Surveillance cameras line the streets and drones often fly overhead.
The Israeli military has become so reliant on automated systems that movement through checkpoints comes to a standstill when technical problems arise, Mr. Amro said.
“Everything is being watched. My whole life has been watched. I don’t have any privacy,” he said. “I feel like they follow me wherever I go.”
Mr Amro said Palestinians were outraged that surveillance tools never appeared to be used to identify crimes committed against Palestinians by Israeli settlers.
Ori Givati, a former Israeli tank commander who is now the propaganda director of Breaking the Silence, said the new surveillance system will begin to be deployed around 2020. The technology, he said, enables the Israeli government to move towards an automated occupation, subject to constant monitoring and oversight by the Palestinians.
Facial recognition systems, he said, “are not only an invasion of privacy, they are a powerful tool of control.”