The Knesset opens its eyes and ears to "Big Brother"

All settlement settlements in the West Bank are strictly monitored - EPA photo, Nati Shohat

You can't have democracy if you don't have privacy, that's the basic requirement. This is a dangerously extreme measure, which imposes a surveillance society, responds lawyer Gil Gunn-More

Israeli police could soon use facial recognition technology captured by public cameras "in order to prevent serious crime", despite a reaction from the opposition and civil society groups that it would be a serious blow to privacy and democracy in general.

A few days ago, the Ministerial Committee on Laws approved the text of the "Big Brother Law" and sent it for adoption to the Knesset, where the right-wing government coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a comfortable majority.

The law was proposed back in February by Justice Minister Yariv Levin and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who is the leader of the ultra-nationalist Otzma Yehudit party. The ministers are pushing for police officers and Shin Bet agents to have access to public camera footage and biometric identification software for investigations.

In February, Levin also signed the controversial law on parliamentary control over the judiciary, against which citizens and associations have been protesting for seven months, and Ben Gvir is in favor of loosening restrictions on carrying weapons in public and expanding the powers of the Shin Bet security service. in order to reduce the crime rate among Israeli Arabs."

Searches without a warrant

The Knesset has already expanded police rights to search homes without a warrant if there are suspicions that weapons are illegally hidden on the premises, as well as to use license plate monitoring technology to track the movement of vehicles containing suspicious persons.

Prime Minister Netanyahu defends all these laws, including the most controversial one on the judiciary, noting that they are necessary to maintain security, order and peace in Israel, but the opposition and civil associations claim that it is an attempt to gradually weaken the democratic system.

– You cannot have democracy if you do not have privacy, that is the basic condition. This is a dangerously extreme measure, which imposes a monitored society – lawyer Gil Gan-More reacts to the "Media Line" portal.

Ben Gvir promotes the "Big Brother Law" by adapting it to his extreme measures to suppress crime among Israeli Arabs. Ben Gvir promised in the campaign that he would wage a fierce battle with crime, but after he took the ministerial oath last year, the number of murders increased dramatically, and during this year alone, more than 170 Israeli Arabs died in violence and clashes with the security forces.

Cameras are not infallible

The technology to identify people based on images is being used in countries around the world, despite criticism that it invades privacy. It is Israeli companies that stand out as the most advanced in the development of such technology. During the pandemic, Israeli services used spy technology without a court order to track the contacts of people infected with covid-19.

Activists fear that the police will gain enormous power - Photo EPA, Oren Ziv

Dr. Tehila Schwartz-Altschuler from the Israel Democracy Institute says that most developed countries are increasingly refraining from using such technology, and some have even banned it altogether. In Israel, it has been used unofficially for a long time and the military allegedly uses it to monitor the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank and at border crossings in the Gaza Strip.

- The problem with biometric cameras is that they make a lot of mistakes and artificial intelligence software more often recognizes people with darker skin as suspicious people - says Schwarz-Altschuller.

Data collection without court supervision

The new law would allow police officers to decide on the installation of cameras for a period of 72 hours, which could be extended if necessary. The police would be obliged to submit annual reports on the use of technology to the Knesset and the public prosecutor. Nowhere in the law is it written who will take care of the confidentiality of the information and who will guarantee that it will be deleted, which fuels fears that sensitive information of a private nature may be provided to third parties or groups who would be benefit.

- This opens up the possibility of collecting a huge amount of data, which can be easily manipulated, especially if there is no judicial supervision - warns Gil Gunn-More.
Schwarz-Altschuller is convinced that there will be abuses of the data: "In the end we will witness abuses, because hardly anyone would be able to refrain when they have this kind of information in front of them."

Some previous Israeli governments tried to push through similar laws, but none passed. It is possible that this too will be rejected by the Knesset when the deputies gather again after the summer break, but the right-wing ruling coalition now has a solid majority, and there are not as many protests against the "Big Brother Law" as there are for judicial reforms.

– The public does not always recognize what is not visible at first glance. But the consequences of such a law can be profound - Gunn-More warns.

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