Iranian authorities plan to use facial recognition to enforce new hijab law | Iran

The Iranian government plans to use facial recognition technology on public transport to identify women who do not comply with a strict new hijab law, as the regime continues its increasingly punitive crackdown on women’s clothing. women.

Secretary of Iran’s Headquarters for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Mohammad Saleh Hashemi Golpayegani, announced in a recent interview that the government planned to use surveillance technology against women in public places following a new decree signed by the president. country’s hardliner, Ebrahim Raisi, on restricting women’s clothing.

The decree was signed on August 15, a month after the July 12 “National Hijab and Chastity Day,” which sparked nationwide protests from women who posted videos of themselves bareheaded on social media. on the streets and on buses and trains. In recent weeks, Iranian authorities have responded with a series of arrests, detentions and forced confessions on television.

“The Iranian government has long toyed with the idea of ​​using facial recognition to identify people who break the law,” said Azadeh Akbari, a researcher at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. “The regime combines ‘old-fashioned’ violent forms of totalitarian control disguised with new technologies.”

A still from a video of Sepideh Rashno, 28, being reprimanded by a fellow passenger on a bus for not wearing the hijab correctly
A still image from a video that led to 28-year-old Sepideh Rashno being arrested for not wearing the hijab correctly on a bus shows her accuser, Rayeheh Rabi’i, filming her. Photography: Brochure

The hijab, a head covering worn by Muslim women, became mandatory after Iran’s revolution in 1979. However, in the decades since, women have pushed the limits of the stipulated dress code.

Some of the women arrested for defying the new decree were identified after videos were posted online of them being harassed on public transport for not wearing the hijab correctly. One, Sepideh Rashno, 28, was arrested after a video circulated on social media in which a fellow passenger scolded her for “dressing inappropriately”. According to the human rights group Hrana, Rashno was beaten after her arrest and later forced to apologize on television to the passenger who harassed her.

Rashno is not the first person to suffer a violent crackdown as a result of going viral on the internet. In 2014, six Iranians, three men and three women, were sentenced to one year in prison and 91 lashes after a video of them dancing in Tehran to Pharrell Williams’ song Happy had more than 150,000 views.

Since 2015, the Iranian government has been gradually introducing biometric identity cards, which include a chip that stores data such as iris scans, fingerprints, and facial images. Researchers are concerned that this information is now being used with facial recognition technology to identify people who violate the mandatory dress code, both on the streets and in cyberspace.

“A large part of the Iranian population is now in this national biometric data bank, as many public services are becoming dependent on biometric IDs,” Akbari said. “So the government has access to all the faces; they know where people come from and can easily find them. A person in a viral video can be identified in seconds.”

He added: “By doing that, the government proves a point: ‘Don’t think that a little thing that happens on a bus somewhere is going to be forgotten. We know who you are and we will find you and then you will have to suffer the consequences.’”

An Iranian police officer talks to a woman in Tehran.
An Iranian police officer talks to a woman in Tehran. Photograph: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

“Ebrahim Raisi is a true ideologue,” said Annabelle Sreberny, professor emeritus at the Center for Iranian Studies at London’s Soas University. “There are terrible economic and environmental problems facing Iran. The inflation rate may now be reaching 50%, but the government is choosing to focus on women’s rights.”

Sreberny added: “I think it’s integral to a failed government that just isn’t dealing with these massive environmental, economic and infrastructure issues. And women are seen as easy targets.”

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