Far-Right Gov’t Advances Bill to Legalize Widespread Use of Facial Recognition Tech

A ministerial panel voted on Monday to lend cabinet support to a far-right government-sponsored bill to legalize usage of facial recognition cameras placed in public spaces across Israel, including the police, the army, the Shin Bet and the Mossad.

The legislation, is backed by Justice Minister Yariv Levin and racist National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir but critics say it lacks sufficiently clear oversight guardrails on the powerful technology, especially in light of recent alleged police misuse of other advanced tools.

The usage of facial recognition cameras placed in public spaces (Photo: ACLU)

The bill was rushed into a special session of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, where it was the only item on the agenda, in order to prepare it for an upcoming special session of the Knesset, planned to be held before the parliament returns from recess on October 15.

According to the bill, police and othe security forces will be allowed to deploy the facial recognition technology to “prevent, thwart or uncover serious crime and those involved in planning or carrying it out.” The legislation is similar to another bill, awaiting its final Knesset votes, that would retroactively legalize the use of the controversial and unregulated Hawk-Eye program which can track and identify license plates and determine whether the vehicle was stolen or if its owner’s driver’s license is expired.

Since becoming national security minister in December, the far-right Ben Gvir has pushed for expanded powers, even as his requests have come up against civil rights concerns. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, a surveillance technology policy expert at the Israel Democracy Institute, tweeted on X on Sunday that the Ben Gvir-Levin-backed bill “that would allow the police to place facial recognition cameras in public spaces and at demonstrations with minimal supervision is as horrible and dangerous as it sounds.”

In addition, the far-right coalition is looking to pass a controversial bill that will enable the Shin Bet security service to perform background checks on all 200,000 of the country’s teachers “to confirm they have no ties to terrorism.” For decades, the Shin Bet performed background checks on Arab teachers’ specially members of the Communist Party of Israel, until they were halted in 2009.  The legislation was passed through a preliminary vote in May and discussed last week in the Education Ministry, with the coalition planning on passing it in the upcoming parliamentary session that starts next month. Rights groups and other opponents are pushing back against the bill, citing privacy concerns and arguing it targets Arab and leftists’ teachers

Likud MK Amit Halevi — who is co-sponsoring the bill alongside MK Zvika Fogel from the far-right Otzma Yehudit party — told Calcalist daily newspaper that the bill “will fundamentally change the educational infrastructure that breeds terrorism.” The bill would facilitate and accelerate the dismissal process of teachers.

Att. Tal Hasin, a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, told Calcalist that “the existing legislative framework already provides the necessary safeguards against incitement of terrorism,” and that the Education Ministry has no authority to transfer the personal details of 200,000 teachers to the Shin Bet, thereby infringing on their privacy and freedom of expression.