Cities Across Israel Installed Surveillance Cameras With No Oversight, Knesset Report Says

'The constant presence of cameras normalizes the feeling of surveillance and causes people to feel that they are being followed every minute'

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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CCTV cameras in Tel Aviv, April 8, 2020.
CCTV cameras in Tel Aviv, April 8, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Municipalities and other bodies have installed thousands of closed circuit cameras in public places without any legislative oversight or regulations, and without the obligation to consult public bodies or the police, according to a recent report prepared by the Knesset Information and Research Center. 

The report, which was commissioned by the Knesset Science and Technology Committee, found that municipalities are installing cameras for municipal administrative purposes and not only security.

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The only directives regarding the installation of such CCTV cameras are from the Justice Ministry’s Privacy Protection Authority from 2012, and directives regarding the use of drones as well as an Interior Ministry procedure on cameras in parking structures.

According to the report’s author, Ro’i Goldschmidt, facial recognition cameras are not in use by any of the municipalities that responded to the Knesset research center’s questionnaire.

However, the Israel Airports Authority did not respond to the questionnaire and the Public Security Ministry asked that its replies be kept confidential.

CCTV cameras are seen against the backdrop of Jerusalem's Old City, March 9, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Goldschmidt explained to the Knesset Science and Committee on Tuesday “that there is no regulatory framework in this realm.”

There are two municipal programs that involve CCTV cameras. One is called “city without violence,” which seeks to identify, investigate and prevent violence and vandalism, and the other is to prevent thefts and increase personal security in farming areas, where in addition to regular cameras, 63 license-plate reading cameras have been installed in 17 communities.

The researchers asked the five biggest cities in Israel for information about their use cameras and databases. The Haifa municipality was the only one of the five not to respond. The Jerusalem municipality uses video analysis to identify unusual activity in public areas in order to manage public space and transportation.

The municipality says it has 1,000 cameras installed throughout the city, some of which include analytical capabilities to identify objects, and 100 of which are connected to servers that than can analyze data. The city’s traffic management center has installed cameras along main roads and also operates cameras at the entrances to certain streets.

The cameras are also used to enforce regulations regarding vehicle pollution, and to identify parking violations and illegal use by private vehicles of public transportation lanes.

CCTV cameras installed on a traffic light in Tel Aviv, June 26, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The city said it does not share the information or the analysis with other bodies and that every camera is installed only after consultation with strategic partners like the police and representatives of the public. 

In Tel Aviv there are 1,200 cameras that use analytics to identify movement and objects in a given area. There are 20 stationary cameras to enforce parking regulations and six moving cameras that identify a vehicle suspected of committing a violation. The city also has 65 cameras surveilling public transportation lanes.

The Tel Aviv municipality also reported that last year it launched a pilot for body cameras to be worn by 20 city inspectors as well as a pilot to patrol the city with two drones operated by the city’s security department.

A representative of the city’s information systems department, Liora Shechter, told the writers of the report in June that the city, in collaboration with Tel Aviv University, had established a startup to obscure people’s faces that are caught on camera and that it was hoped by this month to be able to apply the technology to video and use it in real time.

The city wants to use the technology, as reported in Haaretz at the beginning of this year, for sanitation, lighting and improvements.

Petah Tikva reported 500 cameras at 43 sites in the city, along with 200 cameras in 40 kindergartens, 100 cameras in eight schools and 25 body cameras worn by city inspectors.

City Manager Yaniv Benita said that the municipality uses the cameras to surveille and locate municipal vehicles for internal use. Petah Tikva does not yet have official procedures regarding where to place cameras; however, the city said procedures are in the approval process.

Rishon Letzion did not reveal the number of its cameras but says it has cameras for identifying license places in municipal parking structures. Be’er Sheva reported that it has 117 cameras.

According to data provided to Haaretz last year by a non-profit organization called Hatzlaha, which promotes awareness of the need for regulatory action in social and economic realms, the city of Ramle has close to 100 security cameras. Most of them are in parks and educational institutions.

Catching graffiti sprayers

Ramle’s mayor, Michael Vidal, posted last month on Facebook that the cameras had helped solve a case of graffiti spraying. Last week he posted that the city had begun to act against people the cameras catch failing to pick up their dog’s droppings in the park.

“The constant presence of cameras normalizes the feeling of surveillance and causes people to feel that they are being followed every minute,” Prof. Michael Birnhack of Tel Aviv University’s faculty of law told Haaretz.

“I assume that the municipalities want only the good of their residents and their personal security. We all want safer and cleaner cities. But the problem with the cameras is that they restrict our personal space within public space,” said Birhhack, a specialist in issues of privacy. “That leaves an unpleasant and regimenting feeling.”

According to Hatzlaha, the city of Shoham has 250 cameras, Carmiel has 218, Afula has 82, Azur has 66 (all in schools), and Netivot has 61 cameras.

The Tamar Regional Council at the Dead Sea has 21 cameras, 13 of which are on the Dead Sea beaches. The Brenner Regional Council near Rehovot has only eight cameras, all of which are in the municipality building.

The town of Migdal west of Lake Kinneret has 16 cameras surveilling the municipality building and nine for the rest of the town. The Negev town of Ofakim has only nine cameras.

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