By patrolling social media, Israel’s law enforcers and security personnel have managed to catch Palestinian terrorists before they could carry out attacks.
By: AP and World Israel News
Israeli authorities have foiled over 200 Palestinian attacks by monitoring social media and sifting through vast amounts of data to identify prospective assailants ahead of time, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in an interview Tuesday.
These pre-emptive actions put Israel at the forefront of an increasingly popular — and controversial — trend used by intelligence and law enforcement agencies around the world that use big data technology to track would-be criminals.
While the technology appears to be effective, its tactics drew angry Palestinian condemnation and have raised questions about civil liberties.
Erdan, who oversees the national police force, said Israel’s technology, including the use of algorithms, has been an important factor in lowering the number of knife and shooting attacks in Israel in recent years. His plan includes sharing Israel’s knowledge with counterparts at an international security conference he is hosting that began Tuesday.
“The experience we now have, we can help other countries deal with this kind of terrorism,” he said, adding that working with allies “can lead us to a much better result in fighting lone wolf terrorists.”
Palestinians protest ‘violation’ of ‘privacy’
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian Authority official, criticized Israel’s use of social media to prove peoples’ guilt before a terrorist act is committed, calling it a “violation of privacy.”
However, Israel believes it is legitimate to use data collected on social media, including calls to commit terrorist acts, as an indicator of future wrongdoing.
This tool is particularly useful for detecting so-called “lone-wolf” attacks by individuals with no official ties to a terrorist organization who decide independently to carry out attacks.
In many lone-wolf attacks, there were indications before the act on social media, including statements of intent.
Though some Palestinians who would never have carried out a terrorist attack end up being arrested, Israel says the price is worth paying to save the lives of innocent Israelis.
In September 2015, Israel found itself facing a wave of stabbings, shootings and car rammings carried out by “lone wolf” attackers, or individuals unaffiliated with terrorist groups acting on their own. It was a significant departure from past waves of organized violence led by armed groups like Hamas.
Since then, Palestinians have killed over 50 Israelis, while Israeli forces have killed over 260 Palestinians, most of whom Israel says were attackers. However, the number of attacks has dropped significantly — from 170 “serious attacks” in 2016 to 90 last year to 25 this year, according to Erdan’s ministry.
Israel: Palestinian incitement to blame
Israel has blamed the attacks on anti-Israel incitement in Palestinian social media, while Palestinians claim despondent attackers were driven by a lack of hope after decades of Israeli “occupation” and repeated failure in peace talks.
Those who blame “occupation,” however, ignore the fact that failure to reach a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state, is related directly to the lack of a pragmatic Palestinian leadership that eschews terrorism and focuses on state-building.
Instead, Palestinian leadership is split between Hamas, an Islamist terrorist movement that controls Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority, which suffers from corruption and lacks a democratic mandate from the Palestinian populace.
Erdan, who is also minister of strategic affairs, the agency responsible for fighting the BDS movement, said Israel has turned to various technologies to counter the attacks. That includes facial recognition devices and smart cameras that detect suspicious behavior in real time.
In addition, his ministry, working with the Justice Ministry and Shin Bet internal security agency, created a team to scour an “ocean of data” on social media for objectionable content and to identify attackers before they act.
Members include psychologists, legal advisers and experts who have developed algorithms that analyze online activity. Violent posts, the suspect’s profile and other supporting evidence are factored into the analysis.
“Every event can lead to a discussion. You have to look for the special words that might lead you to the conclusion that something is dangerous,” Erdan said. “The algorithm leads you to suspect someone.