Israeli authorities are increasingly monitoring Palestinian social media traffic in order to identify potential threats. Recently, over 400 Palestinians have been pre-emptively arrested due to their online activity, and Facebook have approved 158 requests to remove content submitted by Palestinians on the site.
The Israeli internal security service Shin Bet (roughly equivalent to the FBI or MI5) have been using software which analyses key words combined with semantic patterns in order to flag and rank potential threats to the Israeli state.
Israeli authorities routinely rely on administrative detentions to remove potential threats without needing to charge them with a crime. Only a few months ago, a UN Human Rights body intervened in the arbitrary detention of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy.
Their systematic violations of the human right to a trial, now coupled with advanced internet surveillance have enabled Shin Bet to abduct hundreds of Palestinians in such a short period of time.
Shin Bet claim that the increased surveillance capabilities have thwarted ‘thousands’ of terrorist attacks. And in their defence, the statistics back-up their claim; violence has gradually ebbed since the brutal winter of 2016, when attacks happened daily. That being said, most people attribute the improved crime figures to the noticeable increase in security forces on the ground.
Shin Bet were less convincing, however, when they were forced to retract their statement on the arbitrarily-detained 400 Palestinians to the newspaper Haaretz. They initially claimed that they all ‘were actively involved in planning’ acts of terror, but later hedged by saying that they were merely ‘at risk’ of being involved in terror.
Considering that merely being related to or friends with those involved in terror can put you in the ‘at risk’ category, this effectively allows the Israeli authorities to detain anybody they like, whenever they like.
Orwellian surveillance practices can induce fear even in the most liberal and transparent democracy. But in a country with such a loose sense of accountability in regards to law enforcement and citizen’s rights, it surely must ingrain in Palestinians an inescapable vulnerability.
The NSA must be jubilant, though. The knowledge that America’s spirit animal, the intensely militarised Israeli state, are willing to go the same lengths as them in terms of jettisoning the concept of privacy in order to realise the dream of an all-seeing government eye is an exciting prospect for Washington types.
And conveniently for Israel, there are no shortage of bogeymen for them to use in order to justify their ends. They don’t need a George Bush WMD moment. The country was founded under and remains in a perpetual state of conflict.
And thus, Israel’s foray into the murky world of mass surveillance has happened far too easily. Expect more to come.