Photo credit: Makbula Nassar
Earlier this month Amnesty International reported that the Israeli military is using a facial recognition technology system known as Red Wolf to track Palestinians in the West Bank and automate harsh restrictions on their freedom of movement. The report reveals how Red Wolf is deployed at military checkpoints in Hebron and elsewhere in the West Bank where it scans Palestinian’s faces and adds them to vast surveillance databases without their consent.
In the wake of this report, NIF grantee Breaking the Silence released an interview with a reserve soldier who has operated Red Wolf at a West Bank checkpoint.
Below is a translated transcript of the interview, edited for length and clarity:
Interviewer: You have used a system called Red Wolf, OK, tell us how it works.
Soldier: A person comes along and undergoes a security check. He gives me his ID papers and I put them through the system. If a green light comes up on the computer then he continues on through with the security check. If there is a yellow light, it means that he has not been identified or is not known in the system. In that case, I am supposed to call the divisional headquarters of the Israeli military command in the West Bank. They will tell me what to do with them. If they are red, then you have to completely lock down the checkpoint and call them to come and take him because he is wanted for arrest.
Interviewer: Does that happen a lot?
Soldier: No it has never happened. They’re not stupid. If they know they’re wanted, they can go through openings in the border besides the checkpoints.
Interviewer: And usually when there is a yellow light in the system, what does it mean?
Soldier: It’s a bug in the computer. But in practice a yellow has never happened to me. They’re all green, or if they don’t have ID, I turn them around and send them back.
Interviewer: The system can identify them without seeing their ID?
Soldier: Yes. The checkpoint has some 10 or 15 cameras. From the moment they enter the checkpoint area, the cameras photograph and identify them and help the soldier standing there. It already captures their face and presents their face to the computer. If it’s somebody who passes through a lot, then the computer already knows him. The computer takes an image of everybody passing through and you the soldier and officers there can match the face to the ID. Once the computer has learned the face it lights up green even before I look at the ID and so it shortens the process for me.
Interviewer: And after you’ve seen the green light?
Soldier: He can freely enter the turnstile, which blocks people who try to ignore me and push through. I can check him and then press on a button to release the turnstile and he can carry on with his life. In practice, the cameras allow you to get alerts more quickly. The division is running a competition to see who can enter the most new names into the computer.