Ministers Support Bill to Legalize Widespread Use of Facial Recognition Tech by Police

View of security cameras on a pole in central Tel Aviv. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

A Knesset committee on Monday granted support for a government-sponsored bill aimed at legalizing the use of facial recognition cameras in public spaces throughout Israel by law enforcement agencies. Justice Minister Yariv Levin and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir have endorsed this legislation, presenting it as a government initiative to combat crime in Arab communities. Critics, however, argue that the bill lacks adequate oversight measures for this powerful technology, especially considering recent allegations of police misuse of advanced tools.

Sources close to Levin have indicated that the bill was expedited for consideration in a special session of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, where it was the sole agenda item, in preparation for an upcoming special session of the Knesset, scheduled before the Knesset’s recess ends on Oct. 15.

Formal approval from the Ministerial Committee on Legislation typically streamlines a bill’s passage through the Knesset and often garners coalition support for the legislation. However, the committee’s approval of the bill on Monday came with several reservations.

Before the meeting, a legal adviser from the Justice Ministry issued a legal opinion in support of the bill while also emphasizing the need for subsequent legislation to refine the tool’s usage and enhance privacy protections.

The Israel Police has expressed support for the bill, with Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai highlighting facial recognition technology as a “lifesaving tool” crucial for combating organized crime, particularly in Arab communities.

According to the proposed legislation, police would be authorized to deploy facial recognition technology for the purpose of “preventing, thwarting, or uncovering serious crimes and individuals involved in planning or committing them.” This bill bears similarities to another pending legislation that seeks to retroactively legalize the use of the unregulated Hawk-Eye program, which tracks and identifies license plates and verifies vehicle ownership and driver’s license validity.

Additionally, the bill would allow law enforcement agencies to retain and employ data collected by biometric facial recognition cameras for criminal investigations but mandates the deletion of data not utilized for real-time identification within 72 hours.

To Read The Full Story

Are you already a subscriber?
Click to log in!