Jerusalem Police Request to Use Face Recognition at Pride March Lacks Intelligence Support

The request, obtained by Haaretz, lacked both legal authority and intelligence information to support the police's demand

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
Jerusalem Pride march, this month.
Jerusalem Pride march, this month.Credit: Maya Alleruzzo/ AP
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

The Israeli Police Chief's request to use facial-recognition technology during the Pride march in Jerusalem did not include intelligence information regarding any intention to harm demonstrators, nor knowledge of any potential suspects, Haaretz has learned.

Before the march, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai asked the Attorney General to approve during event the use of the cameras, which have not yet been legally authorized. The request to use the controversial technology was met with harsh criticism from Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Affairs Amit Merari, who said it lacked the required support, and therefore refused to examine it. Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara did not herself respond to the request.

The facial-recognition technology has not yet been approved and is still under discussion between the police and the Justice Ministry. Two weeks ago, on the eve of Jerusalem's Pride march, Shabtai sent an urgent request to Baharav-Miara for her approval to operate the cameras for facial recognition in order to locate in advance suspects who would attempt to harm the participants.

The police chief received an answer the next day that said it was not approved because the police had no legal authority to operate the system. As the contents of the request now reveal, Shabtai’s request also lacked supporting intelligence information.

In the document, which arrived during the night and was titled, “Use of the facial recognition technologies to protect participants in the Pride march,” Shabtai wrote that the police have information about “various people suspected of having intention to disturb the events or even harm participants in the march.” He asked to make use of the facial-recognition technology in which “the pictures of the faces of those same people who were identified by the police will be included with cameras that will be placed at the entrance to those same events, so it will be possible to prevent the threat."

Shabtai admitted in his letter that the police do not have the legal authority to operate the system, but said, “My opinion is that there is room to reexamine the possibility of operating these capabilities in a focused and concrete manner during unique events and against limited and specific lists of already at this stage.”

The request asked that the police be permitted to operate the system for only six hours, and said Shabtai would submit written regulations in which the police would commit to deleting material not relevant to the investigation.

Shabtai’s letter affirmed that the system could be put into operation immediately and that it is already accessible to the police. But, “in contradiction to authorized work procedures, the request does not include information that allows examination of the request,” Merari wrote.

She said that required information includes "the source of the authority; the need for the use of the technology; the suspects, if they exist, and the level of suspicion they represent; details of the means the police will use; addressing the alternatives whose harm is smaller; and addressing the technological means the police are asking to make use of."

Merari noted as well that the police did not provide intelligence supporting Shabtai’s request: “The request does not include intelligence and legal opinions that detail the information in the police’s hands or the legal basis that allows the police to act as stated.

The police have refused so far to confirm that they are making use of such a system, but the request showed that pictures of suspects had already been obtained from the police's internal records and from documentation from various government ministries.

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