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Israeli press review: Police promote nationwide facial recognition system

Meanwhile, an American official warns Israel about PA crisis, and Likud attempts to block US from reopening East Jerusalem Palestinian consulate general
Workers install security cameras on a street pole near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City 15 February 2016 (Reuters)

Police want facial recognition system 

Police in Israel have been promoting a controversial bill that would allow the installation of nationwide facial recognition cameras in public spaces, roads and border exits.

The new bill will grant the police automatic power to install and operate facial recognition cameras without a rigid check-and-balance system of other authorities, Ynet reported.

The police will be able to monitor Israeli citizens and residents in public spaces in real-time and match their faces to the data stored in public databases.

The bill will also allow police to place cameras on every street in every city and inside buildings, such as malls or government offices, operating facial recognition technology indefinitely. 

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The Israeli army and various government ministries will gain unlimited access to the biometric information collected by these cameras.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit Israel in March 2020, the government has deployed a surveillance system to test and trace people and watch citizens who breach quarantine or go further than the allowed limited radius from their homes.

The new bill states that its goal is to prevent and uncover crime, find and arrest criminals, and help maintain public order and safety.

But its critics have raised the alarm over privacy issues. Anne Suciu, a lawyer at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said the bill will offer power to the police "to conduct mass surveillance of citizens, including biometric facial recognition."

"This law is a huge threat to the privacy of all of us and it give a free hand to the police to use the information it gathers by means of this technology without judicial oversight. We will not let this surveillance law pass," Suciu said.

US official warns Israel of PA collapse

US envoy for Israeli-Palestinian affairs Hady Amr has warned Israeli officials that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is facing a political and economic crisis, and has called on them to strengthen Ramallah's government.

Amr, a deputy assistant secretary for Israel and Palestinian Affairs within the US Department of State, said during a visit to Israel and Palestine this week that he had "never seen the Palestinian Authority in a worse situation."

The American envoy met senior PA officials on Sunday in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank before meeting Israel's finance minister and other Israeli officials, Walla news reported.

Amr described the PA as "a dry forest waiting to catch on fire." He added that the PA lacks legitimacy, which could lead to a dangerous and unstable situation.

"If the authority does not have the money to pay salaries, it could lead to further deterioration and eventually to a collapse," he said.

Likud attempts to block US consulate general

The Likud party plans to propose a bill in the Knesset that would block the United States from reopening its consulate general to the Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, Maariv reported.

After 12 years in power, Likud and its leader Benjamin Netanyahu have taken the opposition mantel in the Israeli parliament. 

Nir Barkat, a Likud member and former mayor of Jerusalem, has submitted a bill in the Knesset that will prevent the re-establishment of the American consulate serving Palestinians in East Jerusalem .

Seen as the potential successor to Netanyahu and a future leader of Likud, Barkat travelled on Thursday to Washington to pressure US officials to withdraw their plan.

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In May, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the US would re-open its consulate to strengthen diplomatic ties with the Palestinian Authority (PA).

In December 2017, the Tump administration unilaterally recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital. It then downgraded the operations of the US consulate general in East Jerusalem and placed them under the authority of the US ambassador to Israel.

Likud's bill will be voted on in the Knesset on Monday. It remains unclear if it will pass.

Barkat warned that if the US reopens its consulate in East Jerusalem, the PA will ask other countries to open consulates in the city.

"A consulate in Jerusalem that serves the Palestinians does not make sense. Do you want a consulate? Go to Ramallah or other places," Barkat said.

* Israeli press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.