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Israeli government backs police use of facial-recognition cameras

Facial-recognition cameras will be employed to “prevent, thwart or uncover serious crime," according to the bill.

A camera hangs from a light rail stop on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem, Jan. 16, 2011. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.
A camera hangs from a light rail stop on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem, Jan. 16, 2011. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Monday approved government support for a bill to allow police access to facial recognition cameras in the public square.

If passed into law, police and other security services such as the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) will be able to use information gathered by the cameras without a court order.

The goal of the legislation is to help fight crime, which has increased, particularly in the Arab sector.

According to the bill’s explanatory section, data from facial-recognition cameras will be employed to “prevent, thwart or uncover serious crime and those involved in planning or carrying it out.”

The bill would also allow the use of the Hawk-Eye computer vision system, which identifies license plates and determines if a vehicle was stolen or if its owner’s driver’s license had expired.

Versions of the bill date from 2013-14, with one advanced by the previous government under then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Its current iteration is co-sponsored by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Justice Minister Yariv Levin.

The bill has been criticized for its intrusion on privacy rights. There are fears a government biometric database will be misused. Opponents have nicknamed it “Big Brother in the public sphere.”

The bill states that stored information disclosed to the security services will be treated as confidential information.

The anti-judicial reform group Hofshi B’Artzenu issued a statement criticizing the proposed legislation: “Placing cameras in the public space is a clear sign of dark regimes with one common denominator—dictatorship.”

Kaplan Force, another such group, decried it as a “delusional proposal” borrowed from the Iranian ayatollahs.

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