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

Iran’s government plans to use facial recognition technology on public transport to identify women who disobey a tough new law on wearing the hijab, as the regime continues its increasingly punitive crackdown on dress women.

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

The decree was signed on August 15, a month after July 12’s “National Hijab and Chastity Day,” which sparked nationwide protests by women who posted videos of themselves on social networks with the head uncovered in the streets, 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, the Netherlands. “The regime combines violent forms of ‘old-fashioned’ totalitarian control dressed up with new technologies.”

Still from video of Sepideh Rashno, 28, being scolded by another passenger on a bus for not wearing hijab properly
A still from a video that led to the arrest of 28-year-old Sepideh Rashno for not wearing the hijab properly on a bus shows her accuser, Rayeheh Rabi’i, filming her. Photography: handout

The hijab, a head covering worn by Muslim women, became compulsory after the Iranian revolution in 1979. Yet in the decades since, women have pushed the boundaries of the stipulated dress code.

Some of the women arrested for defying the new decree were identified after videos emerged online showing them being harassed on public transport for not wearing the hijab properly. One of them, 28-year-old Sepideh Rashno, was arrested after a video circulated on social media showing her being scolded for ‘inappropriate dress’ by another passenger, who was later arrested. forced out of the vehicle by passers-by intervening on Rashno’s behalf. According to human rights group Hrana, Rashno was beaten after her arrest and later forced to apologize on TV to the passenger who harassed her.

Rashno is not the first person to face a violent crackdown after 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 was viewed by more than 150,000 people. time.

Since 2015, the Iranian government has been gradually introducing biometric ID cards, which include a chip that stores data such as iris scans, fingerprints and facial images. Researchers fear 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 become dependent on biometric identifiers,” Akbari said. “Thus, the government has access to all faces; they know where people are coming from and they can easily find them. A person in a viral video can be identified in seconds.

She added: “By doing this, the government is proving a point: ‘Don’t think a little thing that happens somewhere on a bus 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 policeman talks to a woman in Tehran
An Iranian policeman talks to a woman in Tehran. Photograph: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

“Ebrahim Raisi is a real ideologue,” said Annabelle Sreberny, Emeritus Professor at the Center for Iranian Studies at Soas University London. “Iran faces terrible economic and environmental problems. The inflation rate may now be at 50%, but the government chooses to focus on women’s rights.

Sreberny added: “I think it’s part and parcel of a failing government that’s just not addressing these huge infrastructure, economic and environmental issues. And women are seen as an easy target.

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

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