While it might seem that the Iranian government decided to take it easy when it announced its move to disband the so-called “morality police,” this is probably a ploy. That’s because women are now targeted with facial recognition systems.
After months of protests, ignited by the death of Mahsa Amini who was detained by the infamous Islamic dress code enforcers, many were surprised when a senior government official said at the beginning of December that the country had abolished the morality police.
“It was abolished by the same authorities who installed it,” Attorney General Mohammad Javad Montazeri allegedly said during a meeting, according to the New York Times.
This hasn’t yet been officially confirmed, though. And even if it was, it seems that the Iranian government has been deploying more subtle tools to enforce their “social enough” behavior on women.
Iranian women now say they are being fined and prosecuted for violating hijab laws without actually ever being face-to-face with law enforcement. It seems they are identified with facial recognition instead and penalized or arrested a few days later.
University of Oxford researcher Mahsa Alimardani discussed the possibility of facial recognition being used to enforce Iran’s hijab laws in a recent interview with Wired. Alimardani recounted reports of women in Iran who claim to have received mail citations for violating the law without warning or any face-to-face interaction with law enforcement.
An Iranian expat Sarzamineh Shadi also told the magazine she was aware of multiple women who received citations for flouting hijab rules during protests days after the actual protest occurred.
Mohammed Saleh Hashemi Golpayegani, the head of an Iranian government agency that enforces morality law, said that the technology would be used “to identify inappropriate and unusual movements,” including “failure to observe hijab laws.”
Individuals could be identified by checking faces against a national identity database to levy fines and make arrests, he said.
Iran’s government has spent years growing a digital surveillance apparatus. The country’s national identity database, built in 2015, includes biometric data like face scans and is used for national ID cards and to identify people considered dissidents by authorities.
Besides, the Iranian regime has been deliberating over a potential law that if passed would require foreign tech companies doing business there to “collaborate with the Islamic Republic in surveillance and censorship efforts.”
Face recognition has become a desirable tool for authoritarian regimes around the world as a way to suppress dissent. Although many lack the necessary technical infrastructure, this doesn’t seem to be the case in Iran.
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