11/09/2021, 16.17
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Israel mimicks China, using facial recognition to control Palestinians

The Israeli army reportedly rolloing out a far-reaching programme based on new technologies. Soldiers armed with smartphones have taken thousands of photographs, feeding an internal competition. Breaking the Silence denounces these as "highly invasive" methods of surveillance that reveal a "digitalisation" of the occupation. 



Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - A far-reaching programme aimed at identifying Palestinians in the West Bank, with facial recognition and the use of new technologies rolled out by soldiers patrolling the territory on the model long in use by China.

According to an in-depth enquiry by the Washington Post, the soldiers, armed not with rifles but with cameras, took photos of the inhabitants of the town of Hebron, leading to heated real competition to collect as many faces as possible. 

The project began at least two years ago and is based on the use of smartphones with facial recognition systems and a technology called "Blue Wolf", with the collection of photographs and data cross-referenced with a database already present in the Israeli archives. The application, experts explain, alerts the soldier if individuals are to be detained based on preliminary information available about them.

During the creation of the digital photo archive, the soldiers photographed thousands of Palestinians, competing with each other on the number of images taken each day. One soldier, interviewed by the US newspaper on condition of anonymity, explained that the unit he belonged to last year had the specific task of 'taking as many pictures as possible' using old army smartphones.

 Breaking the Silence (BTS), an Israeli NGO of ex-servicemen and reservists that denounces what it considers to be abuses by the Jewish state in the Occupied Territories, the filing work also relied on an extensive network of facial recognition cameras. It operated by integrating the closed-circuit system known as Hebron Smart City, which, according to a former soldier, appears to be able to track Palestinians even inside their homes.

The surveillance network also includes the "White Wolf" application, used by security officials in West Bank settlements to provide information and identify Palestinians before they enter the settlements for work. "People worry about fingerprints," the former soldier explained to the Post, "but this [digital] system is much more elaborate and worrisome.

According to Bts activists, the new system uses "highly invasive" surveillance methods based on facial recognition technology to be able to "monitor the movements of Palestinian residents in real time". These revelations are just the latest example of the "digitisation" of the occupation. "While here in Israel, and throughout the Western world, there is a heated debate about the degree to which governments are allowed to use technology to enter our lives," the note concludes, "when it comes to Palestinians, there is no debate at all.


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