Herziya, Israel - As one of the largest exporters in surveillance technology, facial recognition software, and motion tracking programmes, Israel recently hosted an expansive security conference where companies promoted the latest questionably intrusive products.
While privacy rights activists critique these new technologies as invasive, the greatest problem facing the surveillance industry, according to Brigadier General Israel Rom, Former Head of Central Intelligence and Homeland Security Technologies of the Israeli Prison Service, isn't technological or legal - it's human. By 2020, the world will have accumulated 3.3 trillion video hours of surveillance footage to sift through, and an average human operator can't pay attention to a camera for more than 20 minutes.
One good picture, that's what we need for identification.
In late February, at the Israeli Air Force Center in Herzliya, Israel - a small, affluent city on the Mediterranean coast near Tel Aviv - leaders of Israel's cybersecurity industry gathered at the Video Analytics Security Conference to discuss the future of video surveillance. While the conference was intended as an opportunity for company representatives to woo potential buyers for their newest technologies, the lectures revolved around a central theme: how to manage the troves of information that the surveillance industry has collected.
Shahar Belkin, Chief Technology Officer for the Israeli company FST21 - a company that produces facial recognition software - had one possible answer. "Our goal is to identify people, whether they're supposed to be there or not," Belkin said in his presentation.
"One good picture, that's what we need for identification," Belkin continued.
Like all facial recognition software, Belkin noted, FST21's system has trouble identifying people wearing simple face disguises like sunglasses or baseball caps. Adam Harvey, a New York-based fashion designer who creates anti-surveillance clothing and makeup, says such disguises are among the last protections that civilians have against video surveillance.
"We can't let those get taken away," Harvey told Al Jazeera.
Dor Givon of Extreme Reality, another presenter at the Video Analytics Security Conference, demonstrated his company's method of circumventing these concealments. In a talk entitled "Non-Invasive Video User Recognition and Behavior Analysis," Givon showed off Extreme Reality's Gait Biometric Recognition software, which identifies patterns in skeleton movements.
Givon explained that the programme can "extract a 2D skeleton" of people viewed by its cameras and compare that skeleton to a database in a matter of seconds. The software "create[s] a biometric signature unique to all of us", said Givon. While facial recognition software is limited by range and camera angle and sensitive to disguises, he continued, gait recognition isn't vulnerable to any of these impediments.
Furthermore, Givon said, the software developed by Extreme Reality could be adapted to work with any extant security camera. Avi Yariv, a partner at i-HLS (Israel Homeland Security), the company organising the conference, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that there's no way of telling how many cameras are currently being used in Israel. In addition to the unmonitored numbers of private security cameras in homes and businesses, Yariv said, many municipal governments in Israel have begun Safe City projects to install surveillance cameras as part of the National City Without Violence initiative. In Tel Aviv, several thousand cameras are planned through the Safe City project.
Among the largest hotspots of surveillance in Israel is the Old City of Jerusalem, where last year the government installed cameras to monitor the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque, drawing anger from the Jordanian administrators of the site.
"It's a fear society," said David Behar, a lecturer on industrial design at Haifa's Technion Institute whose research covers surveillance in public space, when asked about the prevalence of state security in Israel. "We trust anything that will take away the fear."
Here in Israel, I think you could say that security is a religion... Israelis don't raise doubts about security.
That desire for security has created an enormous industry of military technology. Israel's defense industry was valued at $13.1bn in 2012, the third-largest in the Middle East. The country is the world's largest drone exporter, and more than 50 percent of the defense industry is government-owned, a number that far outstrips most of the developed world.
"Here in Israel, I think you could say that security is a religion... Israelis don't raise doubts about security," Behar told Al Jazeera.
Although most of the conference participants focused on camera surveillance, Esti Peshin of Israel Aerospace Industries, among the largest government-owned defense manufacturers in Israel, showed off company innovations in Open Source Intelligence (OSINT).
In a section of her presentation titled "Social Media - A Haven for OSINT", Peshin explained that instead of using cameras or other surveillance technologies, OSINT relies on user-generated data - largely Facebook posts and YouTube uploads - to collect information. Facebook and YouTube host 1 billion or more monthly users each, she said, making them sizeable potential data sources.
To illustrate the capacities of OSINT, Peshin showed a clip from a cell phone video taken during the 2013 Little India riot in Singapore and uploaded to YouTube by one of the rioters. In a still image pulled from the video, a man's face was clearly visible as he smashed a car window. With verification that the video was taken when and where it claimed to be, Peshin said, the clip could be used as legal evidence against the rioter.
Concerns over citizens' privacy, OSINT and other forms of surveillance went largely unheard at the conference. The right to privacy has been enshrined in Israel's Basic Law since the law's adoption in 1992; however, the 1981 Protection of Privacy Law and its 1996 amendment covering data privacy define the scope of Israel's privacy protections, and they exempt governmental institutions and security forces from the limitations imposed by the laws.
Yariv argued that the intelligence produced by surveillance is necessary for state security and supersedes privacy considerations. "People want two things: they want security, and they want privacy," Yariv told Al Jazeera. "But today, unfortunately...it doesn't go together. So if you ask me what my preference is – security before privacy."
"Get as much inside the database – if you have more normal people, the abnormal will be more differentiated," Yariv continued. "You need to know about everybody... you cannot know who to take out, because then you hurt your own statistics. I want as much more people as I can inside the database."
"I'd rather live in a world where the NSA is listening to everybody than where the NSA is listening to nobody. And all the people can do whatever they want... but I'd rather the good guys listen."