Facial Recognition Scanners Speed Up Checkpoint Crossings

facial recognition
The Qalandiya checkpoint north of Yerushalayim. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israeli military has installed facial recognition scanners as part of a multi-million dollar upgrade of the Qalandiya and other crossings that now allows Palestinians from Yehudah and Shomron with work permits to zip through with relative ease.

Qalandiya, near Yerushalayim, is one of the main crossings for the thousands of Palestinians who enter Israel each day for a variety of reasons, including work, medical appointments or family visits.

Palestinian laborers have long had to wait on long lines to enter the country.

Israel’s Defense Ministry poured over $85 million into upgrading Qalandiya and several other major checkpoints in recent years — part of a strategy it says is meant to maintain calm by improving conditions for Palestinians.

Thanks to the upgrades, crossing through Qalandiya takes roughly 10 minutes, even during the early morning rush hour, and has the feel of an airport terminal. While much of the rest of the capital is still asleep, hundreds of Palestinian laborers stream through each morning on foot or riding bikes, buses and cars into Israel for work.

COGAT, the Israeli Defense Ministry body responsible for civilian affairs in Yehudah and Shomron, granted over 83,000 permits to Palestinians to work in Israel in June. On a given day, an estimated 8,000 people cross at the Qalandiya crossing alone.

In exchange for this benefit, however, Palestinians seeking work in Israel must receive biometric identification cards, the only way to pass through Qalandiya, according to Israel’s Civil Administration, which manages the crossing.

After passing through a security check — a metal detector and baggage scanner — the workers place their magnetic ID cards on a scanner and face a camera. A glow of red light emanates from a display as facial recognition software confirms the permit holder’s identity and opens a turnstile.

A recent report by Israeli business paper The Marker stated that the Israeli military uses technology provided by AnyVision, an Israeli facial recognition start-up, at checkpoints, and in cameras dotting the Palestinian territories.

The cameras and database are being used to identify and track potential Palestinian assailants, the report said.

AnyVision did not respond to requests for comment.

COGAT confirmed the use of facial recognition technology at the crossing, but declined to discuss the details of the biometric database or say whether the data is used beyond the crossings. The Defense Ministry, the army and the Shin Bet internal security agency also declined comment.

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, said it was unacceptable that the Palestinian laborers have no ability to object to the use of facial recognition technology. Roy Yellin, a spokesman for the group, called the company’s development of its product through “unwilling subjects” immoral.

For Najah al-Mahseri, 62, from a town near Ramallah, giving the Israeli military his biometric data was a fair trade for a steady job in Israel.

“I have no problem at all. This is my life and if I want to work here, I have to follow the rules and I have no problem doing that,” Mahseri said. “This is the life Palestinian workers in Israel live.”

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