The Iranian government is planning to use face recognition technology to spot women who are not abiding by the country’s strict new regulation mandating wearing hijabs in public. According to Mohammad Saleh Hashemi Golpayegani, secretary of Iran’s Headquarters for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice revealed, facial recognition will play a key role in identifying and penalizing women who violate the law approved by President Ebrahim Raisi.
It is the first time in Iranian history that a governmental official has acknowledged the use of face recognition technology in surveillance systems. Golpayegani has previously stated that women who post images of themselves online without wearing a hijab can lose some social privileges for six months to a year.
A month after the national “Hijab and Chastity Day” on July 12, which provoked nationwide demonstrations by women who uploaded videos of themselves on social media with their heads uncovered on the streets, in buses, and in trains, the new law was signed on August 15. Amid the draconian laws, the Iranian government has responded in recent weeks with a wave of arrests, detentions, and forced confessions on television.
The Iranian government has been issuing biometric identity cards since 2015. These cards have a chip that records information, including iris scans, fingerprints, and face photographs. Researchers are concerned that this data will be used with face recognition technology to identify those who disobey the dress code offline and online.
After Iran’s revolution in 1979, Iranian women and girls over the age of 9 were required to wear the hijab. In the years followed, women have increasingly challenged the confines of the stipulated dress code.
However, the enhanced legislation has begun a new age of punishment and public monitoring. 28-year-old Sepideh Rashno was detained after a fellow passenger released a video of her wearing “improper clothing” as evidence of her breaking the law.
Bystanders physically escorted the passenger who was filming her from the bus, but local rights advocates claim that Rashno was subsequently taken into custody, assaulted, and made to make a public apology to the offending passenger on state television.
As Tehran turns to monitor people using facial recognition technologies, there is a looming concern that other women might meet a fate like Rashno’s after Iran starts using facial recognition. Meanwhile, the dreaded Morality Police, also known as Guidance Patrols, have ramped up their activity and violence. On social media, videos have surfaced that show authority detaining women before shoving them into vans and escorting them away.