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Amnesty wants end to surveillance infrastructure in Palestine

Red Wolf facial recognition tool playing prominent role
Amnesty wants end to surveillance infrastructure in Palestine

Amnesty International is decrying the Israeli government’s use of experimental facial recognition known as Red Wolf, which can be linked to a larger military surveillance network.

The concerns are included in the human rights organization’s new report, Automated Apartheid: How Facial Recognition Fragments, Segregates and Controls Palestinians in the OPT.

The report argues that Israel is using invasive surveillance systems to get ever-tighter control over Palestinians. Facial scans, it says, are conducted at border checkpoints without consent, and the collected data is stored and linked to government databases for the purpose of tracking people and restricting their movement.

“The Israeli authorities are using sophisticated surveillance tools to supercharge segregation and automate apartheid against Palestinians,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty’s secretary general, in a release. “A new facial recognition system called Red Wolf is reinforcing draconian restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement, using illegitimately acquired biometric data to monitor and control Palestinians’ movements around the city.”

According to Amnesty’s report, AI-powered facial recognition algorithms are being deployed in conjunction with a multitude of CCTV cameras to create a panopticon-like atmosphere for Palestinians in the occupied territories of Hebron and East Jerusalem.

“The constant surveillance Palestinians face means they not only live in a state of insecurity, but they are also at risk of arbitrary arrest, interrogation, and detention,” the report asserts.

Wolves at the border

Automated Apartheid also positions the Red Wolf system used at Hebron checkpoints as the latest addition to surveillance code. The previously-reported Blue Wolf and Wolf Pack projects bring mass surveillance capability onto soldiers’ mobile phones, by linking mobile facial scanning apps with large biometric and personal information databases of Palestinians.

“These databases and tools exclusively record the data of Palestinians and are used to determine the ability of individual Palestinians to enter or exit their neighbourhoods and other locations,” says the report. Residents quoted in the data say the omnipresence of cameras and the lack of transparency about who gets to see the data they collect create a dehumanizing atmosphere, rife with anxiety.

One resident reportedly told Amnesty that “Israeli soldiers can tell you that your name is not in the database, as simple as that, and then you’re not allowed to pass through [to] your house.”

The report details how some units have even gamified oppressive surveillance practices, with incentives to register the most Palestinians and move up in the rankings.

Amnesty wants businesses to stop supplying Israel with the surveillance tools. The organization is also advocating for a worldwide ban on the development, sale and deployment of facial recognition for surveillance.

The organization is among a growing chorus calling on governments around the world to avoid the exploitation and abuse of biometric technologies for maintaining state control.

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