Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation has advanced a controversial bill that would give the government far-reaching surveillance powers. The bill would allow the government (including the police) to apply facial recognition technologies to any footage captured on public security cameras, and to do so without needing to secure a warrant.
The decision has already drawn considerable backlash from privacy advocates, who argue that there need to be some restrictions to prevent abuses of the technology. In that regard, Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shat dissented from the rest of the Committee and suggested that facial recognition should require a court order, or that the government should establish a separate committee to oversee the program.
“When the police can place biometric cameras in every neighborhood with the wave of a finger, it leads to abuse and excessive enforcement of particular populations,” said Tamano-Shata.
The proposed facial recognition system would be able to identify objects and the biometric characteristics of people’s faces, and compare them to images of people in government databases. The police argue that the technology will help prevent serious crimes, find missing persons, and stop blacklisted individuals from entering certain spaces.
Privacy advocates, on the other hand, believe that the bill is a significant overreach for the government. The bill was initially created to provide legal backing for Israel’s existing Eagle Eye program, which tracks the movement of motor vehicles. The Supreme Court criticized the government for failing to obtain any kind of formal authorization before rolling out the system, and the government has responded with an even more ambitious bill that goes beyond motor vehicles to encompass full biometric people-tracking capabilities.
The proposed bill has yet to become law, and Israel’s Justice Minister acknowledged that the Defense Minister will take the criticisms into account and make changes before the bill is presented to the Knesset for a final vote. The current version covers the police placement and use of surveillance cameras in public spaces, but contains minimal assurances about data protection, data storage, and public privacy, all of which are concerning to opponents.
A separate report from earlier in the year indicated that Corsight will be supplying the Israeli police with body cameras with facial recognition tech. The privacy debates playing out in the country echo those in other parts of the world.
May 9, 2022 – by Eric Weiss