The Israeli army uses facial recognition in Gaza

Israel has deployed a massive facial recognition program in the Gaza Strip, creating a database of Palestinians without their knowledge or consent. The New York Times reports. The program, created after the October 7 attacks, uses technology from Google Photos and a custom tool built by Tel Aviv-based company Corsight to identify people linked to Hamas.

The facial recognition program was built in conjunction with the Israeli military offensive in Gaza, according to the Israeli military Time report. After the October 7 attacks, officers from the Israel Defense Forces’ Unit 8200, the Israeli army’s main intelligence unit, identified potential targets by looking at security camera footage and videos uploaded by Hamas to social media. Soldiers also asked Palestinian prisoners to identify people from their community with ties to Hamas.

Corsight, which boasts that its technology can accurately identify people even when less than 50 percent of their faces are visible, has used these photos to build a facial recognition tool that Israeli officers can use in Gaza. To further build its database – and identify potential targets – the Israeli military has set up checkpoints equipped with facial recognition cameras along the main roads used by Palestinians to flee south. The goal, an officer told police Timewas to create a ‘hit list’ of people who took part in the October 7 attack.

In some cases, Corsight’s tool incorrectly identified people as affiliated with Hamas

Soldiers told the Time Corsight’s technology wasn’t always accurate, especially when it relied on grainy images or photos with people’s faces hidden. In some cases, Corsight’s tool incorrectly identified people as affiliated with Hamas. One such case involved Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha, who was picked from an Israeli military checkpoint on Gaza’s central highway in mid-November while he was trying to leave Gaza for Egypt with his family. The system had flagged Abu Toha as being on an Israeli wanted list. Israeli officers held Abu Toha in a detention center, where he was beaten and interrogated for two days before being returned to Gaza without explanation.

The Israeli military has supplemented Corsight’s technology with Google Photos – which, unlike Corsight, is free to use – soldiers told the Time. Intelligence officers have uploaded databases of ‘known people’ to Google Photos and used the photo search function to further identify people. An officer told the Time that Google Photos could identify people even when only a small part of their face was visible, making it better than other tools, including Corsight.

Corsight executives and financiers have spoken out about their desire to assist the Israeli military in the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip. In an October op-ed for The Jerusalem PostAaron Ashkenazi – the founder and managing partner of Canadian fund Awz Ventures, which led Corsight’s $5 million funding round in 2020 – wrote that Awz provided Israel with “the technological tools to stop these evil terrorists.” Most of the companies in Awz’s portfolio are in the artificial intelligence and cybersecurity sectors.

In October, some hospitals in Israel began using Corsight’s technology to identify patients. Forbes reported at the time. According to the Forbes report, Corsight’s technology was able to capture images of people “whose facial features had been affected by physical trauma, and match photos submitted by concerned family members.”

Corsight is primarily aimed at government, law enforcement and military applications. In 2020, the year-old company said its technology could identify masked faces. Two years later, Corsight claimed to be developing a tool that could create a model of a person’s face based on their DNA. Last year, Corsight worked with the metropolitan police in Bogotá, Colombia, to track down murder and robbery suspects via public transportation.

Corsight did not respond to a request for comment.

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