Israel’s military reportedly used Google Photos to identify civilians in Gaza

The New York Times reports Israel’s military intelligence used an experimental facial recognition program in Gaza that incorrectly identified Palestinian civilians as having ties to Hamas. Google Photos It is allegedly playing a role in implementing the cooling program, although not through direct collaboration with the company.

The surveillance program was reportedly launched to search for Israeli hostages in Gaza. However, as often happens with new warfare technology, the initiative was quickly expanded to “root out anyone associated with Hamas or other militant groups.” NYT. The technology is flawed, but Israeli soldiers reportedly did not treat it that way when arresting civilians flagged by the system.

According to intelligence officials who spoke NYT, the program uses technology from the Israeli private company Corsight. The Tel Aviv-based company promises that its surveillance systems can accurately identify people with less than half of their faces exposed. This can be effective even with “extreme angles, (even from drones) dark and poor quality”.

But the officer in Israel’s 8200th unit learned that, in fact, he often struggles with faces that are grainy, dark or scarred. According to the official, Corsight’s technology contained false positives and cases where a well-identified Palestinian was incorrectly identified as having ties to Hamas.

This was reported by three Israeli officers NYT said the military is using Google Photos to add Corsight technology. Intelligence officials allegedly uploaded data containing known persons of interest to Google and allowed them to use the app’s photo search feature to mark them as surveillance material. One official said Google’s ability to match partially obscured faces was superior to Corsight’s, but they continued to use the latter because it was “customizable.”

Engadget emailed Google for a statement, but had not heard back at the time of publication. We’ll update this story if we hear back.

One person mistakenly detained by the surveillance program was the poet Mosab Abu Toha. NYT he was sidelined at a military checkpoint in northern Gaza while his family tried to flee to Egypt. According to the claim, he was then handcuffed and blindfolded, then beaten and interrogated for two days, and finally returned. According to him, the soldiers told him that his interrogation (and then some) was “wrong” before he was released.

The Things You’ll Find Hidden in My Ear: Poems from Gaza the secretary said he had no ties to Hamas and was unaware of Israel’s facial recognition program in Gaza. However, he said that while he was in prison, he heard someone say that the Israeli military was using “new technology” against the group he was incarcerated with.

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