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

The New York Times reports that the Israeli military has been using a facial recognition program in Gaza where Palestinian civilians are not known to have ties to Hamas. Google Photos they are said to be participating in the implementation of the cooling program, although it seems that it was not done through cooperation with the company.

The surveillance system is said to have started as a way to hunt down Israeli hostages in Gaza. However, as is often the case with new wartime technology, the operation was quickly expanded to “remove anyone with ties to Hamas or other armed groups,” according to The price of the NYT. The technology is flawed, but the Israeli military says it has not taken any action to arrest civilians identified by the system.

According to the intelligence officers who spoke to The price of the NYT, the program uses technology from the Israeli company Corsight. Headquartered in Tel Aviv, it promises that its scanning system can recognize people with at least half a face. It can be useful even with “terrible angles, (even from drones) darkness, and good alignment.”

But an officer of the Israeli Unit 8200 realized that, in fact, people often suffer from gray, hidden or injured faces. According to the official, Corsight’s expertise included falsehoods and allegations that a prominent Palestinian was known to have ties to Hamas.

Three Israeli officials said The price of the NYT that his military used Google Photos to support Corsight technology. Agency officials say they uploaded data containing known people of interest to Google’s service, allowing them to use the app’s image search feature to target among the things it highlights. One official said that Google’s ability to match partially obscured faces was an advantage for Corsight, but they continued to use it because it was “possible”.

When asked for comment, a Google spokesperson reiterated to Engadget that only the categories are visible to images you’ve added to your library. “Google Photos is a free and open source that helps you organize photos by grouping similar faces, so you can recruit people to easily find old photos. It does not provide information to unknown people in photos,” he wrote.

One man who was wrongly arrested through the surveillance program was the poet Mosab Abu Toha, who told The price of the NYT he was pulled aside at a military checkpoint in northern Gaza as his family tried to flee to Egypt. He was then reportedly handcuffed and blindfolded, then beaten and interrogated for two days before being returned. He said the military told him before he was released that his interrogation (and others) was “a mistake.”

The Things You’ll Find Hidden in My Ear: Poems from Gaza The secretary said he had no ties to Hamas and was not aware of Israel’s facial recognition program in Gaza. However, while in prison, he said he heard someone say that the Israeli army had used “new technology” on the group he was arrested with.

Update, March 27, 2024, 4:32 PM ET: This article has been edited to add a quote to Engadget from Google.

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