Israel Surveils Palestinians in West Bank in Massive Facial Recognition Program

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Collection of Israeli portraits by the artist Ronel Fisher at Tel Aviv University.
Collection of Israeli portraits by the artist Ronel Fisher at Tel Aviv University, May 2015Credit: Moti Milrod

Israeli soldiers have been involved in an organized effort to take photos of Palestinian residents of the West Bank town of Hebron and have even competed with one another to provide the photos for a facial recognition database being used to monitor Palestinians. 

According to a Washington Post investigative report published Monday, over the past two years, Israeli soldiers have begun using a facial recognition smartphone technology called Blue Wolf to take pictures of Palestinians' faces and cross-reference them against a database of other photos. The app then alerts the soldier whether individuals should be detained based on prior information about them.

In the course of the creation of the database, soldiers photographed Palestinians and even competed with one another over the number of pictures that they took. It is thought that the database contains thousands of photos, the Post stated.

One soldier quoted by the Post recounted how last year, his unit was tasked with taking pictures of as many Palestinians as possible in Hebron using old army smartphones.

The Washington Post's report was also based on information supplied by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli army veterans that exposes army abuses committed in the occupied territories.

The Post's report also included reference to a network of facial recognition cameras installed at checkpoints in Hebron that complements a broader network of closed-circuit television cameras known as Hebron Smart City, which according to an ex-soldier, also tracks Palestinians in their homes.   

The surveillance network also includes White Wolf, an app that had been previously disclosed and that is used by security officials in West Bank settlements to provide identification information about Palestinians before they enter settlements to work.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable if they used it in the mall in [my hometown], let’s put it that way,” one soldier told the Post. “People worry about fingerprinting, but this is that several times over.”

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