For years, police have been using cameras that show where Israelis drive every day without any direct legal authorization to do so. By pressing a button, anonymous police officers can violate any driver’s privacy without any need for a warrant. The Eagle Eye system, installed six years ago, operates with no legal authorization. Only thanks to a petition to the High Court of Justice by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel – and after police efforts at concealment and attempts by the prosecution to turn a blind eye – will legislation be passed on the issue.
But in the process, police are also trying to get authorization to put facial recognition cameras in public areas. On the pretext of fighting crime, police officers would be able to decide where to position these cameras, which essentially identify every person’s facial features. Those features would be entered into a police system that would be able to monitor all Israelis’ daily activities from the moment they leave the house. Police would be able to use the biometric database and all the information gathered by the cameras for almost any purpose they please. The proposed legislation would even allow Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet security service to access the system if they need it “to do their jobs.”
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This law would give the government the power to monitor citizens who haven’t committed any crime, with no oversight and no judicial review. How exactly will this sensitive information be protected? It’s impossible to know. On the grounds of the need to fight crime, the Public Security Ministry and the police are seeking, on the state’s behalf, to abolish the right to privacy, except in the privacy of one’s own home. The police will be able to monitor all Israelis and know where every one of them is, whom they meet with and when they returned home, even if they aren’t suspected of anything.
This law must not be allowed to pass. A report released by the Knesset research center last December warned of the high percentage of errors made by facial recognition software, particularly when trying to identify members of ethnic minorities. This could and probably will lead to excessive incrimination of Israeli minorities, who are already discriminated against, but this time, with the help of facial recognition cameras.
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But in addition to excessive incrimination, there’s also a fear that unacceptable use will be made of the cameras to monitor anti-government protesters, social activists and so forth. This is not a conspiracy theory. In the United States, members of Congress have warned that the security services are using cameras and other tools against demonstrators, and the day is not far off when this will happen in Israel too. Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev must wake up, grasp the fact that police are trying to abolish Israelis’ privacy under his very nose and stop them from achieving their goal.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.