Surveillance of security camera footage (illustative)
Surveillance of security camera footage (illustative) iStock

On Sunday, the Knesset’s Ministerial Legislation Committee approved a bill regulating the use of facial recognition cameras in public areas, permitting the defense establishment to access the data and use it without obtaining a court order.

According to the wording of the bill, its purpose is to “regulate aspects of the installation and use by the Israel Police of special photographic systems in the public space … These are photographic systems that are capable of focusing on objects or various biometric properties, taking a picture of them, and comparing it to the pictures in the database in a manner that makes it possible to identify the object or person being photographed if there is a previous, identified image of him in the database.”

The draft legislation also cites proposed uses of the data obtained, including crime detection and prevention, locating missing persons, and enforcement of restraining orders.

Rights organizations and activists have expressed concern at the lack of judicial oversight in the way police will both use and store the data, and have raised the issue of potential leaks of the information obtained. Although the wording of the bill states that police will “ensure the privacy of the individuals to which the information relates,” recent revelations of police spying on individuals, even those not suspected of any crime (via Pegasus spyware software) have degraded the public’s trust in the police as impartial and law-abiding, they state.

According to the Jewish Press, Immigration and Absorption Minister Penina Tamano-Shatta was the only committee member who objected to the proposed bill. “When a police officer can post a biometric camera in every neighborhood, there’s an opening for the exploitation and over-enforcement in certain populations,” she argued.

However, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar dismissed her concerns, responding: “When it comes to eradicating terrorism, I take the invasion of privacy with a grain of salt. [After all] it’s a public space.”

The Israeli Association for Civil Rights issued a statement in response, noting that “the draft bill not only allows the police to receive alerts about wanted persons but also to collect and store personal information about innocent citizens, without a court order and without supervision. The bill endangers the freedom of citizens and their right not to be surveilled.”