Kfar Adumim (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – Twenty years after planning the controversial barrier between Israel and the Palestinians, Dany Tirza is developing a security tool that requires no cement: body cameras with facial recognition technology.
Tirza, a former Israeli army colonel, says his company Yozmot Ltd aims to produce a body-worn camera allowing police to scan crowds and detect suspects in real time, even if their faces are obscured.
Facial recognition in law enforcement has drawn global criticism, with US tech giants backing away from providing the technology to police, citing privacy risks.
Supporters, including Tirza, however, tout his ability to track down criminals or missing persons.
“The policeman will know who he is facing,” he said.
Tirza, 63, spoke to AFP from his home in Kfar Adumim, a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.
He said he has partnered with Tel Aviv-based Corsight AI to develop a body-worn police camera that could instantly identify people in a crowd, even if they are wearing masks, makeup or camouflage, and could associate them with photographs dating back several decades.
Corsight CEO Rob Watts did not confirm the collaboration, but said his company was working with some 230 “integrators” worldwide who were integrating facial recognition software into cameras.
The technology allows customers to create databases, whether of company employees allowed to enter a building, ticket holders allowed to enter a stadium, or suspects wanted by the police, Watts said.
He said Australian and UK police are already piloting the technology.
The facial recognition industry was worth an estimated $3.7 billion in 2020, according to market research firm Mordor Intelligence, which predicted growth to $11.6 billion by 2026.
Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and IBM have all declared temporary or permanent freezes on the sale of facial recognition programs to law enforcement.
France last month ordered US-based Clearview AI to delete data on its citizens, saying the company breached privacy by creating a facial recognition database using “scraped” images on the Internet.
Watts called Clearview’s actions “abhorrent” and said Corsight AI did not sell to China, Russia or Myanmar because of “human rights and ethics”.
“What we want to do is promote facial recognition as a force for good,” he said.
He said Corsight had hired Tony Porter, the UK’s former CCTV commissioner, as its privacy officer, and the software would blur or remove faces deemed irrelevant within seconds.
Corsight AI was valued at around $55 million in a recent funding round, Watts said, estimating it would hit $250 million by the end of the year and noting the technology’s potential.
“Why do I need a credit card? I don’t have one, I have a face,” he said. “The consumer will adopt facial recognition very, very quickly and easily because it’s easy.”
Surveillance technology developed in Israel has a checkered history.
The NSO Group, founded by veterans of Israeli military intelligence, makes the Pegasus software that can spy on cellphones.
US authorities blacklisted NSO in November, and Facebook and Apple sued the company after the spyware was found on devices belonging to dissidents and journalists.
NSO claims that Pegasus complies with Israeli Ministry of Defense export regulations.
Israeli facial recognition software has also come under criticism.
In November, former Israeli soldiers revealed that they had photographed thousands of Palestinians to create a database for a massive facial recognition surveillance program in the West Bank city of Hebron.
In 2020, Microsoft divested Israeli facial recognition company AnyVision, now renamed Oosto, over the company’s alleged involvement in surveillance of Palestinians.
Oosto works with law enforcement agencies and private companies around the world, and its software is used at checkpoints where Palestinian workers enter Israel.
Corsight CEO Watts said his company had “a number of contracts in Israel — contracts and government agencies,” but declined to elaborate, citing nondisclosure agreements.
Palestinian digital rights activist Nadim Nashif said the use of facial recognition technology reinforces Israel’s “control” over Palestinians and adds to a “dominance” of physical spaces.
But Tirza praised its use at checkpoints, saying the main purpose was to reduce “friction” between soldiers and locals.
Tirza was a colonel in the Israeli army in 2002 when he was tasked with designing a barrier in response to attacks during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Part towering concrete slabs, part fence, it now meanders more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) along the Israel-West Bank border.
Palestinians say construction of the barrier has taken over nearly 10% of the West Bank and the International Court of Justice has ruled it illegal.
But Tirza said it also reshaped the conflict.
Until it was built, “a lot of people thought you couldn’t separate” Israelis and Palestinians, he said.
Tirza said he expects the body camera to be completed within a year and hopes to market it to US and Mexican law enforcement – although he acknowledged some reluctance.
“They were very interested, but everyone says check the laws” to see if it’s going too far, he said.
“But I believe it’s not too far.”
© 2022 AFP