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The New Arab

Israel using computer algorithm to detain Palestinians

The computer algorithm predicts future behaviour based on social media posts. [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 April, 2017

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Hundreds of Palestinians have been detained by Israeli security forces on the basis of a computer algorithm which monitors their social media posts to predict future behaviour.
Hundreds of Palestinians have been detained by Israeli security forces on the basis of a computer algorithm which monitors their social media posts to predict their future behaviour.

In early April, Israel's Channel 10 news reported that Israel's military and Shit Bet security services were using a cyber programme to arrest suspects before they carried out any crime, a move eerily similar to "Precrime" in the dystopian thriller Minority Report.

The programmes, developed by several Israeli companies, gather information in the public domain from social media activity in order to analyse and monitor individual behaviour, Haaretz reported.

The information used by security forces to detain Palestinians includes key words, such as shahid (martyr), and analysing semantic patterns and any mentions of suspicious terms.

The news report was discussing the drop in lone-wolf attacks following a wave of violence in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2015.

The cyber programmes monitor and track individuals' lives using social media posts in order to evaluate their level of security threat.

In effect, this makes Palestinians "double-victims" of tragedies, Israeli economist Shir Hever told the Real News Network.

When a relative is killed by Israel's army or when a person loses their job, they become security risks in the eyes of Israeli authorities as more likely to take revenge or carry out attacks.

As such, their social media posts are monitored and they can be arrested to pre-empt any crime.

The companies that provide Israeli police and security forces with these algorithms also seek to export them to other governments if they can prove they successfully prevent terrorism, Hever added.

Israel has long cracked down on Palestinian social media use. In September 2016, a meeting reportedly took place between Facebook and Israeli government officials to take measures to combat online "incitement."

Facebook subsequently approved 95 percent of the 158 requests submitted by Israeli authorities to remove content, rights group Adalah reported.

Some 6,500 Palestinians are currently detained by Israel for a range of offences and alleged crimes. Around 500 are held under administrative detention, which allows imprisonment without charge. 

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