Israeli Cyber Authority Opposes Police Facial Recognition Cameras

The law could violate human rights, leak sensitive data, and cause 'friction' between the police and the public, warn cyber experts

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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CCTV cameras in Tel Aviv, last year.
CCTV cameras in Tel Aviv, last year.Credit: מגד גוזני
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Israel National Cyber Directorate expressed far-reaching opposition to a move by the police to install facial recognition cameras in public areas, citing concerns over the leakage of personal data that would amount in human rights breaches.

The directorate, a body which is tasked with designing and formulating national cyber strategy and policy in Israel, warns that data collected by the cameras could leak and that the cameras’ limited ability to identify people could end up harming innocent civilians.

Directorate officials are calling for a significant reduction in the access of the military and other public bodies to the information gathered through the cameras.

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Authors from the directorate’s Identity and Biometric Applications Unit wrote that the biometric systems that will be used "are less accurate than monitored systems for facial recognition” and that “incorrect operation is liable to lead to significant rates of errors and possible violations of human rights.”

Directorate officials also included a document they composed in July which warns against using facial recognition cameras to maintain public order in places like stadiums or demonstrations. It asserts that this usage “could lead to excessive collection of facial pictures of people in a way that is liable to be used for surveilling them, documenting their movement and documenting their political positions – thus violating privacy, diminishing a person’s sense of liberty and freedom of expression because of the chilling effect of this type of surveillance.”

The authors concluded that “many corrections are needed in the memorandum" for it to correspond to regulatory trends in the rest of the world. They recommended adopting EU regulations by which enforcement authorities are not permitted to use biometric systems for long-distance recognition in real time in general, but only in cases like a focused search for crime victims, locating missing minors, security-related emergency situations and locating suspects of serious crimes.

Officials also cautioned against maintaining the biometric documentation without any time limits and recommended as little biometric information as possible be collected and saved.

The directorate criticized the placement of cameras without independent supervision and according to the sole considerations of the police and described such a move as significantly raising the “friction” between the police and the public. The officials proposed installing the cameras only after receiving an order from a judge and that the police be required to report to the Knesset and the public regarding the operation of the systems.

The directorate also protested the fact that they were not consulted in preparing the memorandum of law, even though expertise in collecting biometric data falls under their purview.

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