The Israeli army is using facial recognition to track Palestinians, former soldiers reveal

The Israeli military has deployed an extensive facial recognition program to track Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, according to a new report by The Washington Post.

Former Israeli soldiers told the Post about a smartphone technology called “Blue Wolf,” which takes photos of Palestinians and stores them in a large-scale database. Once an image is captured, Blue Wolf matches that picture to a person in its database, and as the Post describes, soldiers’ phones will then flash a specific color that signifies if that individual should be arrested, detained, or left undisturbed.

The Post notes that the Israeli army has been filling up the database with thousands of images of Palestinians over the past two years, and it even held “competitions” that rewarded soldiers for taking the most photos of people. The database is essentially a “Facebook for Palestinians,” a former soldier told the Post.

The Israeli military has also set up cameras throughout the city of Hebron that scan Palestinians’ faces and identify them for soldiers at checkpoints. Meanwhile, a series of CCTV cameras, some of which point into people’s homes, provide live monitoring 24/7.

According to the Post, the former soldiers were told by the military that the surveillance system was put in place to prevent terrorism. Either way, Israel’s system takes facial recognition to a dystopian extreme.

The largest city in the West Bank, Hebron has seen bitter and long-standing conflict between Israeli and Palestinian populations. A large portion of the city is administered directly by the Israeli military, which enforces curfews and other movement restrictions on the local population. But even in the context of the extreme security measures, the former soldiers who spoke to the Post found the facial recognition system alarming.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable if they used it in the mall in [my hometown], let’s put it that way,” a former soldier told the Post. “People worry about fingerprinting, but this is that several times over.”

There have been a number of similar systems implemented in other countries, and all have been controversial. China developed a similar facial recognition system to monitor the Uyghur minority population, although it’s unclear how widely the system was put into use. Moscow recently added facial recognition payment systems to hundreds of metro stations, while the UK launched a similar face-scanning payment system for schoolchildren at lunchtime.