Police said to keep huge secret database on movement of Israelis’ cars

Report says footage being kept from smart cameras that can identify license plates, ostensibly to track crime or terror suspects, but without any apparent oversight mechanism

A police officer stands guard at a roadblock on a road leading to Ein Hemed, near Jerusalem, on April 28, 2020 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A police officer stands guard at a roadblock on a road leading to Ein Hemed, near Jerusalem, on April 28, 2020 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The police force has been compiling information on the movements of Israelis not suspected of any crime in a secret database that does not appear to have any oversight, a report said Wednesday.

According to the Walla news website, the database includes footage of cars driving across the country that was filmed using smart LPR cameras, which can identify license plates and determine whether the vehicle was stolen or if its owner’s driver’s license is expired.

The purpose of the so-called Hawk-Eye program is to retroactively track where a car came from if its driver is suspected of involvement in a crime or a terror attack. However, a police source with knowledge of the system told the news site that the video footage is saved for at least six months and possibly years.

That means there is a massive database on the movement of innocent Israelis, just in case their vehicle is involved in a crime in the future.

The system began operating as a pilot project in 2014, the report said. The smart cameras are now located on many central roads in Israel and thoroughfares leading into or out of many cities, while others are mounted on police vehicles.

The issue of government tracking of movement has emerged into the public eye in recent weeks as law enforcement authorities have sought and received permission to use phone data to track the movement of people for epidemiological purposes as part of the effort to keep the novel coronavirus from spreading.

However legislators have put in place a system to oversee the tracking program and the Shin Bet normally needs a special court order to track phone locations.

No such oversight mechanism exists for the Hawk-Eye system.

The report claimed that police have kept the database secret despite a 2012 regulation by the Justice Ministry requiring the body to register such databases with it and notify the public of their existence.

The use of the database isn’t even subjected to internal police oversight, the report said.

“What justification can there be for gathering this information when it is not regulated by any law or even an internal protocol?” Anne Suciu of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) told Walla.

“Does any cop have the authority to access that database? When they access it, is there any record of it to verify they weren’t searching their ex-wife’s car?” she added.

Police responded that the system’s use was “validated by judicial means and used in an orderly fashion when needed.”

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