Jerusalem Police Denied Request to Use Face Recognition Tech at Today's Pride March

Ahead of Pride March, police arrest three suspected of sending death threats to Jerusalem, Netivot parade organizers ■ High profile lawmakers to attend march for first time

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The Jerusalem Pride March, in 2021.
The Jerusalem Pride March, in 2021.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Israel's attorney general refused the police's request to use facial recognition technology at the Jerusalem Pride March on Thursday, a senior law enforcement official said, saying the request was too broad.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev filed a request Wednesday with Attorney Geneal Gali Baharav-Miara to allow them to place cameras all along the route of the parade, in an attempt to locate suspects who could harm participants, even though the use of such technology is not authorized by law.

While police deny that they use facial recognition technology, the request affirms that the police possess a biometric face-recognition system that is ready for immediate use. At least one technology company that sells products to detect suspects in public have said that the Israel Police is one of its clients.

A bill is currently being promoted that would anchor the police's authority to use biometric cameras, subject to the enactment of regulations. The proposal has not yet been submitted to the Knesset.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel made an urgent appeal on Thursday to the attorney general, asking it to reject the police's request.

Currently, no law regulates such use or allows the police to use such facial recognition technology. Over the last year, police have been lobbying to pass a bill that would enable using face-recognition cameras in public places, and in April, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation backed the bill.

According to the bill, Israeli defense officials will have access to the data gathered by the cameras, and could use it without a court order.

The bill, which has stirred controversy over the violation of privacy of individuals, aims to "Regulate aspects of the installation and use of special photographic systems in the public space by the Israel Police."

A source told Haaretz that in closed conversations, Bar-Lev expressed support of using the system only on a point-by-point basis, targeting specific targets that might come to the march.

The face-recognition system advanced by the police is able to focus on objects or on various biometric properties, take a picture of them and compare it to existing images that are stored in the database in a way that allows identifying the object or the photographed person.

Police have told Haaretz this week that they are using various advanced technologies to maintain public security and peace. "These tools are used in accordance with the law and their usage is subjected to strict procedures and required approvals," the police statement said, adding that the police are "dealing with sophisticated crime and great dangers to public safety."

Suspects arrested over death threats

Israel Police arrested a 21-year-old man on Wednesday on suspicion of sending death threats to an organizer of the Jerusalem Pride March, as well as to a lawmaker who expressed support for the parade.

The suspect holds European citizenship and has been living in Israel for a few years, based in Jerusalem. The police will ask the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court to extend his detention.

On Thursday, police arrested two suspects who threatened the mother of one of the organizers of the first-ever pride parade in the southern town of Netivot, ultimately leading to its cancelation.

The suspects, aged 32 and 35, allegedly threw stones at the mother's car, smashing one of its windows. They are also suspected of hanging a bag containing a bullet at the entrance to her workplace.

Police launched an investigation Wednesday after one of the organizers of the Jerusalem Pride March filed a complaint regarding threats she received on social media. Labor lawmakers Naama Lazimi and Gilad Kariv also said they received threats ahead of the parade, known as the Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance, which is slated to take place on Thursday.

"We will not allow the Pride Parade to take place in the Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a Holy City. The fate of Shira Banki awaits you," a message sent from an Instagram account by the name of "The brothers of Yishai Schlissel" read.

Shira Banki was a 16-year-old Israeli teen who was killed by ultra-Orthodox Yishai Schlissel during the Jerusalem Pride Parade in 2015.

In response, Lazimi said in a tweet that, "The hateful extremists will not stop until they see blood. This appalling message foreshadows the next murder."

Kariv tweeted that he had filed a report to the Knesset security officer, adding that "The depth and severity of these threats displays the extent of incitement against the gay community, incitement which has the support of rabbis, public officials, and media extremists.

The Jerusalem parade organizer who received the threats shared on Facebook that while she was getting her children ready to go to school, she received death threats, adding that "This is not the first time I wondered about the price they [my children] will pay for what I choose to do… But I go to work today like I do every day, with intent to fight hard for the world my children will grow up in."

"We must not remain silent in the face of people who spread hate and incite to violence," Yesh Atid's Mickey Levy said, referring to the death threats. "As a Knesset Speaker who represents the entire public in Israel, it is important for me to stand up and say clearly: LGBT people are equal citizens of Israel and deserve full equality."

Levy is set to speak during the parade later on Thursday, becoming the first-ever Knesset Speaker to talk at the event. Alongside Levy, four ministers and many lawmakers are expected to attend the march.

In response to the death threats, the police announced that thousands of cops, in uniform and undercover, will secure the Jerusalem parade, and that the officers will operate both along the route where the march is expected to pass and along the cross streets.

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