A controversial bill that would allow Israeli police to use facial recognition cameras in public spaces has sparked outrage among human rights activists, who fear it would lead to more violations of the rights of Palestinians living under occupation and apartheid.
The bill, which was approved by a ministerial committee on Monday, is being promoted by the right-wing government as a tool to fight crime, especially in Arab communities. However, rights groups warn that the bill would grant police excessive powers to surveil and profile Palestinians without judicial oversight or adequate safeguards for privacy and data protection.
According to the bill, police would be able to install facial recognition cameras and collect biometric data from individuals in public areas across the country, particularly in Palestinian towns and cities in Israel. The bill would also allow police to activate the cameras without obtaining a warrant from a judge, as long as they obtain approval from a senior officer and inform the attorney general.
The bill is expected to be presented to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, for a vote in the coming weeks. If passed, it would legalize a practice that has already been used by police in some areas, such as Jerusalem’s Old City, where facial recognition cameras have been installed at the entrances of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site.
Rights Groups Criticize the Bill
Human rights organizations have denounced the bill as a threat to the civil liberties and dignity of Palestinians, who already face systematic discrimination and oppression by Israel’s occupation and apartheid regime. They have also expressed concern that the bill would enable police to target Palestinians for arbitrary arrests, harassment and violence based on their appearance and identity.
“This bill is a dangerous step towards expanding Israel’s surveillance state and entrenching its apartheid policies against Palestinians,” said Saleh Higazi, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa. “It would give police carte blanche to violate the privacy and human rights of Palestinians with impunity, while doing little to address the root causes of crime and violence in their communities.”
Higazi added that facial recognition technology was prone to errors and biases, especially when used on people of color and ethnic minorities. He cited examples from other countries where such technology had led to wrongful arrests and racial profiling. He also warned that the bill would expose Palestinians to further risks of data breaches and misuse by Israeli authorities or third parties.
“Facial recognition technology is a powerful tool that can be easily abused by governments and corporations for mass surveillance and social control,” he said. “Israel has a dismal record of respecting the rights of Palestinians and protecting their personal data. This bill would only increase the potential for abuse and harm.”
The bill has also drawn criticism from some Israeli politicians and civil society groups, who have questioned its legality and necessity. They have argued that the bill would violate Israel’s Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, which guarantees the right to privacy and due process. They have also challenged the claim that the bill would help reduce crime rates, pointing out that there was no evidence to support this assertion.
Horowitz called on the Knesset to reject the bill and urged the government to invest in social and economic development in Arab communities instead of increasing police presence and repression.
The bill comes amid a wave of protests by Palestinians in Israel against Israel’s policies and practices in Jerusalem and Gaza, where it launched a devastating 11-day military offensive in May that killed over 250 Palestinians, including 66 children. The protests were met with brutal crackdowns by Israeli police, who used excessive force, including live ammunition, rubber-coated metal bullets, tear gas and stun grenades, against peaceful demonstrators. Police also arrested hundreds of Palestinians on vague charges of “incitement” or “rioting”, many of whom reported being tortured or ill-treated in detention.