Control the wearing of the veil via facial recognition? A controversial project in Iran

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, women have been required by law to wear a hijab covering the head and neck while concealing the hair. But over the past two decades, many women have defied this ban by wearing the veil so that part of their hair is visible, or sometimes by removing it.

Latest examples, on July 12 on the occasion of the National Day of the hijab and chastity.

Since then, the Iranian authorities have sought to tighten the screws on the application of the law requiring women to wear the Muslim veil.

In recent days, several media, including the reformist newspaper Arman Emrouz, mentioned the existence of a plan to fine women who do not wear the hijab using facial recognition technology through cameras installed in public places such as the subway.

Controversial project

These same media do not specify the exact nature of the project or who is behind it, but relay the recent remarks of the secretary of the organization for the promotion of virtue and the rejection of vice, affiliated with the State, Mohammad Saleh Hashemi Golpaygani. “Today the technology is so advanced that it can recognize people from their images in the cameras”, did he declare. And to add that “cameras in the city, especially in the subway, will take pictures of women, and a fine […] will be sent to their homes.”

According to information published on social networks, the fine for not wearing the headscarf would be 300,000 tomans [12 dollars]. Other fines are provided for other offences. Thus, for a short coat, it would be 150,000 tomans, and for heavy makeup, it would be 85,000 tomans.

Golpayegani’s remarks sparked controversy in the country. Former reformist vice-president, Mohammad Ali Abtahi “begged God that the Taliban in Afghanistan don’t see the interview, because they would learn new ways” to impose more restrictions on women. For his part, the reformist journalist Abbas Abdi mocked the plan, describing it wryly as “a very profitable initiative to get the state out of its dependence on oil”.

But this project already seems compromised. On September 3, the Young Iranian Journalists Club, affiliated with state television, stated on its website that “Tehran’s metro cameras are not able to recognize people’s faces”.

The article, relayed by the newspaper Hamshahri, cited “an informed source” which says this:

“Cameras inside the trains and on the platforms record the images, but they cannot process them.”

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