Stop facial recognition to weaken apartheid
Exposing Red Wolf
In 1997, the city of Hebron was divided into two sections under an agreement by the Israeli authorities and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO): H1, which constitutes 80% of the city and is controlled by Palestinian authorities, and Israeli-controlled H2, which is home to some 33,000 Palestinians and 700-800 Israeli illegal settlers.
Checkpoints and road closures guarded by heavily-armed Israeli soldiers are hassle for Palestinians trying to across from one side of Hebron to the other for work, to study, see family or seek medical treatment. This is in stark contrast to Israeli settlers, who can travel freely, without needing to go through any checkpoints or use a special permit.
In 2022, an investigation by Amnesty International revealed the existence of a previously unreported Israeli military facial recognition system called Red Wolf, used to monitor the movement of Palestinians entering and leaving H2.
Red Wolf operates through the numerous cameras installed at checkpoints across Hebron. Every time a Palestinian goes through a checkpoint, their face is scanned without their knowledge or consent, and compared with other biometric entries of other Palestinians stored in linked databases. The identity of individuals known to have participated in protests or activism, or known to have been detained or questioned previously by the Israeli military, is flagged by the system, which then automatically decides if the individual can pass the checkpoint. If Red Wolf finds that an individual is not registered on the databases, their face is added and they are automatically denied passage.
Amnesty International corroborated its findings on the role Red Wolf plays in this automated apartheid with testimony from current and former military personnel provided by the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence.
Safaa, who lives in Tel Rumeida in H2 told Amnesty International of the tension she feels passing Checkpoint 56, which is mounted with at least 24 cameras and feels like a military zone. It is unsettling when Israeli soldiers “tell [me] who I am without presenting any identification papers or anything. They have my facial fingerprint, so they don’t ask me for anything”.
Red Wolf is linked to two other military-run surveillance databases which contain profiles exclusively of Palestinians: Wolf Pack, and the more recent Blue Wolf app. Its pervasive use has alarming implications for the freedom of movement of countless Palestinians already at risk of systematic and widespread arbitrary arrest and detention by Israeli security forces, who often use the slightest pretext to harass and abuse them.