Israel police are refusing to disclose a secret algorithm being used to profile and detain passengers at the airport who have no criminal history and provide no cause for suspicion. Israeli courts have expressed concern about the artificial intelligence program, which raises several legal issues.
According to a report by Calcalist, the program gathers private information about citizens from government ministries, including databases from the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Welfare, the Tax Authority and others. The algorithm then compiles the data, which may include socioeconomic status, marital status, relatives, etc and matches them against a pre-determined criminal profile. It is unclear what significance the algorithm assigns to certain data.
If there is a match, even if there is no criminal history, the passenger is detained at the airport by police before passing through border control. The reason for the detention is known only to the police officers, who then conduct a search of the passenger’s luggage and may also conduct an invasive body search.
The existence of the program was revealed during a recent trial involving one such detainee, but the police refused to provide any details about the program to the court.
"We received no clarification on how the system works and on what basis of information people are added to the list,” said Central District Court Judge Merav Greenberg. “There is no claim that the inclusion [of a suspect] is based on concrete information."
Greenberg added that "conducting a search of a person or their body involves a serious violation of their constitutional right to privacy. It is established that, in the absence of an explicit authorization by law, such searches should not be conducted, and to the extent that the search is conducted illegally, the use of its output may be limited."
Supreme Court Judge Anat Baron also weighed in on the secret program when the case was brought for appeal.
"Indeed, the manner in which the petitioner was arrested at the airport when he was located by the 'generalization method' . . . a method whose nature, at least at this stage, cannot be verified - causes difficulty and the question arises whether the search was carried out illegally,” said Baron.