In recent months, during the seemingly endless news cycle, we’ve appeared to be living an extreme version of the movie Groundhog Day. Protests for and against judicial reform, Israeli flags being waved, road blockades, confrontations between police officers and protesters and scenes of water cannons – all these images have become commonplace. Recently, a new player has entered this field, the Ayin Hanetz (Hawk Eye) system. Already installed on the streets of Israel, the system was recently shown for the first time at a demonstration, and now it could completely change the rules of the game for demonstrations.
Ayin Hanetz is based on a set of cameras that automatically follow, capture and identify images of license plates at all times through advanced image processing technology. Over the years, this system has been used to collect personal information and even use it in legal proceedings. Surprisingly, this was done without legislation regulating the use of such far-reaching technology.
However, in recent months, against the backdrop of an ongoing petition before the High Court against the use of this system, the Knesset Internal Security Committee has been promoting a legislative initiative aimed at creating a common framework for the various types of police use. Has been Specialized camera technology (including Ayin Hanetz).
This is an important step, but still there are some concerns that should be highlighted.
First, there is the technical risk. Difficulties or failures in the system, or the manner in which it is being used, can lead to mistaken identities and victimization of innocent citizens. This is not a theoretical risk, as we have seen problems with the deployment of such systems in other contexts (in the United Kingdom and the United States).
Secondly, one must also be mindful of the risk of biometric information being leaked or stolen. This is a long-standing issue with all biometric databases in Israel plagued by problems with their management and security maintenance – an issue about which both the National Cyber Authority’s advisor and the state controller on biometric applications have warned. given.
Third, and of particular relevance, is the matter of privacy. The use of databases containing personal information of countless citizens can lead to mass surveillance for various purposes (some unimaginable at this stage) that violate the right to privacy – considered one of the most important human rights Which is the basis of any democratic regime, not only in Israel.
Finally, it is important to mention freedom of expression, another fundamental right that is part of the freedoms that shape Israel’s democratic character. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, this right has become the centerpiece of public life in Israel, and we now face the largest protest movement in the history of our young nation.
It is an extraordinary political climate involving hundreds of thousands of Israelis and the level of tension continues to rise. The decision to add such widespread technological equipment to the mix could worsen the situation even more, and widen the trust gap between citizens and the police. More broadly, there may also be a chilling effect on people’s willingness to perform (a concern that also arose in the context of Shin Bet’s use of a previously top secret “tool”, a cellphone metadata collection designed for tracking are used (during the COVID-19 pandemic).
Israeli legislators are currently in the midst of promoting regulation for the use of the special camera system, including Ayin Hanetz, and the reasoning behind the urgency of using it at demonstrations now remains unclear. Since this process is already underway, it would be useful for the police to declare their intention to use this technology only in compliance with the proposed legislation. In particular, the police must ensure that the collection of its images is achieved in accordance with the law and that mechanisms are in place to verify that personal data is neither being leaked nor exploited.
Otherwise, we may face an even greater erosion of public confidence in some of the basic rights of our democracy.
Dr. Tal Mimran is Professor of International Law at Zefat Academic College and Program Director at the Taklith Institute. Advice. Eden Farber teaches at Zefat Academic College and is a researcher at the Taklith Institute.