Israeli intelligence company mining Facebook for counterterrorism data

Israeli intelligence company mining Facebook for counterterrorism data

Terrogence offers facial recognition services based on information it admits to having gleaned from social media giants and other internet forums

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative image of a man in front of a computer with the Facebook logo, February 26, 2014 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Illustrative image of a man in front of a computer with the Facebook logo, February 26, 2014 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

An Israeli cyber-intelligence company is offering facial recognition counterterrorism services based on tens of thousands of photos and videos it has siphoned from the internet — including from social media giant Facebook, which is currently struggling to defend its reputation for protecting users’ privacy.

Netanya-based Terrogence, co-founded by former Israeli intelligence officer Shai Arbel, offers a range of products and reports based on data and facial identification that it openly admits to having harvested from sites such as Facebook and YouTube and other internet forums, Forbes reported last week.

Terrogence has been marketing its facial recognition service, called Face-Int, for at least the past five years.

According to the company website about Face-Int, “Terrogence actively monitors and collects online profiles and facial images of terrorists, criminals and other individuals believed to pose a threat to aviation security, immigration and national security.”

“The Face-IntTM database houses the profiles of thousands of suspects harvested from such online sources as YouTube, Facebook and open and closed forums all over the globe. It represents facial extractions from over 35,000 videos and photos retrieved online portraying such activities as terrorist training camps, motivational videos and actual terror attacks,” the site boasts.

A spokesperson for Facebook said Terrogence would be violating policies by taking data from Facebook for surveillance purposes, Forbes reported. A spokesperson noted that Facebook had not found any apps operated by Terrogence.

Arbel declined to speak with Forbes about the company and its operations.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary Committees on Capitol Hill, on April 10, 2018, about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Facebook is reeling from its worst-ever privacy failure following revelations last month that the political data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by the Donald Trump presidential campaign, improperly scooped up data on about 87 million users.

Company CEO Mark Zuckerberg went on an apology tour in recent weeks, culminating in appearances before congressional committee.

A British television undercover investigation caught senior Cambridge Analytica executives admitting that the company had also engaged in bribery stings, honey traps and spying with the help of ex-spies from Britain and Israel.

According to Forbes, Terrogence was bought in 2017 by Verint, which lists its head office in New York but also has an office in Herzliya, Israel, as well as many other locations around the world.

The report said both Verint and Terrogence have provided technology in the past to the NSA, US Navy, and other security agencies. Public records show that Terrogence has two contracts with the US Navy, worth a total of $148,000 for subscriptions to its Mobius and TGAlertS counterterrorism report services. However, there is no evidence that American agencies have purchased the Face-Int product.

Signs for the company Cambridge Analytica in the lobby of the London, UK, building in which it is based, March 21, 2018. (Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images via JTA)

Earlier this month Verint also launched FaceDetect, a software that uses facial recognition to add suspects to watch lists.

Some have warned of the dangers posed when people are automatically added to various blacklists without knowing about it.

“We’ve been fighting with the government for years over due process on those lists,” said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. “People being put on them without being told why and not being sure how those lists are being used.

“A lot of those problems could intensify if you have a bunch of private quasi-vigilantes making their own blacklists of all kinds,” Stanley told Forbes. “If private companies are scraping photos and combining them with personal info in order to make judgments about people — are you a terrorist, or how likely are you to be a shoplifter or anything in between — then it exposes everyone to the risk of being misidentified, or correctly identified and being misjudged.”

Agencies contributed to to this report.

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