Automating apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

In this interview, Matt Mahmoudi explains the Amnesty report titled Automating Apartheid, which he contributed to. The report exposes how the Israeli authorities extensively use surveillance tools, facial recognition technologies, and networks of CCTV cameras to support, intensify and entrench their continued domination and oppression of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories (OPT), Hebron and East Jerusalem. Facial recognition software is used by Israeli authorities to consolidate existing practices of discriminatory policing and segregation, violating Palestinians’ basic rights.

The report presents a non-exhaustive overview of the scale and breadth of biometric surveillance, and the human rights violations associated with these technologies, carried out by the Israeli security forces, including the army and police, as well as the expanding use of surveillance by settlers, at times using similar hardware. These methods, as argued by the report, restricts Palestinians’ freedom of movement, fragments and controls the population, and creates a “coercive environment […] which routinely make [Palestinian] lives unbearable, [and] which is aimed at forcing Palestinians to leave areas of strategic interest to Israeli authorities.”

‘Blue Wolf’ is an app that gives Israeli soldiers instant access to the information collected on Palestinians, and stored in the ‘Wolf Pack’ database. It is also used to conduct mass biometrics registrations of Palestinians in Hebron, in which soldiers scan the faces of Palestinians using a mobile phone – without their knowledge or consent – and then add them to a database of exclusively Palestinian profiles. An AI-powered system, ‘Red Wolf’, is a facial recognition system that is deployed at Israeli checkpoints that scans Palestinian’s faces and determines whether they can pass a check point or are denied entry. Palestinians are denied entry if no profile exists on the system, but it also automatically registers any new face it scans, and thus further expanding its database of Palestinian faces over time. The report has determined that it is highly likely that ‘Red Wolf’ is connected to ‘Blue Wolf’ and ‘Wolf Pack’. These checkpoints only apply to Palestinians, and these databases consists of only Palestinian faces, highlighting the discriminatory nature of it. The intensification of surveillance tools reinforces and exacerbates the existing apartheid system, highlighting that the ways in which surveillance is applied is discriminatory.

As Mahmoudi rightly states:

Not only does facial recognition depend on the active surveillance of an ever-increasing larger number of racialised communities, but it helps bolster apartheid. This cannot stand.

The report clarifies the increasing role of technology that enables the scaling of violence, and simultaneously stresses that there is nothing inevitable about the development, sale and use of these tools, that are not only facilitated by the Israeli state, but by corporate actors globally. These actors work in proximity to apartheid. As revealed in the report, products from two companies were identified in the Old City of Jerusalem and in Hebron’s H1: Chinese surveillance developer, HikiVision, and Dutch security company, TKH Security.

Writing this on day 52 of the ongoing genocide in Palestine, it is imperative to continue tracing these connections in order to push, pressure and stop state and corporate actors from actively funding, enabling, and engaging in the security and technological apparatus – including the development and deployment of surveillance systems – that fuels the Israeli state’s system of violence, dispossession and domination against the Palestinian peoples.

See: ‘The system learns to recognize you’: Amnesty calls out automated apartheid at +972 Magazine.

Image by Anne Paq from the Activestills collective, from the original article at +972 Magazine.

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