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Israel implements extensive facial recognition system in Gaza

Gaza, 27 March, 2024 (GNP); After passing through an Israeli military checkpoint on Gaza’s main highway on November 19, the Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha was singled out from the crowd. He placed his 3-year-old son on the ground and sat in front of a military jeep.

Thirty minutes later, Abu Toha was called by name, blindfolded, and taken for interrogation.

“I didn’t understand what was going on or how they knew my full name all of a sudden,” said the 31-year-old, who claimed no affiliation with Hamas and was attempting to leave Gaza for Egypt.

It transpired that Abu Toha had unknowingly entered the range of cameras equipped with facial recognition technology, according to three Israeli intelligence officials speaking anonymously. Upon scanning his face and identifying him, an AI program detected that the poet was on an Israeli watchlist.

Mr. Abu Toha is among numerous Palestinians identified through a newly revealed Israeli facial recognition initiative launched in Gaza in late 2023.

This extensive and experimental program aims at conducting widespread surveillance, capturing and categorizing Palestinian faces without their awareness or consent, as per Israeli intelligence officers, military officials, and soldiers.

Also Read:  UN Security Council passes ceasefire resolution on Gaza.

Initially deployed to locate Israelis captured by Hamas during cross-border raids on October 7, the technology evolved into a tool for identifying individuals with links to Hamas or other militant factions amidst Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza. However, there have been instances where civilians were mistakenly flagged as wanted Hamas members, admitted one officer.

Operated by Israel’s military intelligence unit, including Unit 8200’s cyber-intelligence division, the facial recognition system utilizes technology from Corsight, an Israeli private company, along with Google Photos. Together, these technologies enable Israel to identify faces in crowds and low-quality drone footage.

Three individuals familiar with the program have come forward expressing concerns about its misuse by Israel military.

An Israeli army spokesperson declined to comment on activities in Gaza but emphasized the military’s commitment to conducting necessary security and intelligence operations with efforts to minimize harm to civilians. Regarding operational and intelligence capabilities, the spokesperson stated they couldn’t provide further details.

Facial recognition technology has become widespread globally, driven by advanced AI systems. While some nations utilize it to streamline air travel, others like Russia has employed it to target minority populations and suppress dissent. Israel’s use of facial recognition in Gaza is notable as it represents an application of this technology within a conflict setting.

Matt Mahmoudi, a researcher at Amnesty International, expressed concern over Israel’s utilization of facial recognition technology, warning that it could contribute to the dehumanization of Palestinians by reducing them to mere statistics rather than recognizing their individuality.

He emphasized the likelihood of Israeli soldiers unquestioningly trusting the technology’s identification of individuals as belonging to militant groups, despite its potential for errors.

After October 7th, Israeli intelligence officers in Unit 8200 utilized the surveillance for gathering intelligence on the Hamas gunmen who infiltrated Israel’s borders. They also analyzed footage from security cameras and videos posted by Hamas on social media platforms. According to one officer, the unit was instructed to compile a “hit list” of Hamas members involved in the attack.