How AI surveillance threatens democracy everywhere

How AI surveillance threatens democracy everywhere

Abi Olvera writes:

In 2018, Singapore planned to embed facial recognition cameras in lampposts for nationwide monitoring. But rapid advances in battery technology and 5G networks enabled a pivot to an even more powerful and nimble surveillance system—mobile sensors and cameras capable of observing citizens and catching them in the act of littering, with artificial intelligence handling the data analysis. Around the same time, Malaysia partnered with China’s Yitu Technology to provide police with an AI-powered facial recognition system linked to a central database for real-time identification of citizens from body camera footage.

Around the world, a new breed of digital eyes is keeping watch over citizens. Although mass surveillance isn’t new, AI-powered systems are providing governments more efficient ways of keeping tabs on the public. According to the 2019 AI Global Surveillance Index, 56 out of 176 countries now use artificial intelligence in some capacity to keep cities “safe.” Among other things, frail non-democratic governments can use AI-enabled monitoring to detect and track individuals and deter civil disobedience before it begins, thereby bolstering their authority.

These systems offer cash-strapped autocracies and weak democracies the deterrent power of a police or military patrol without needing to pay for, or manage, a patrol force, explains Martin Beraja, co-author of an AI-powered autocratic surveillance trend analysis and associate professor of economics at MIT. The decoupling of surveillance from costly police forces also means autocracies “may end up looking less violent because they have better technology for chilling unrest before it happens,” he says. [Continue reading…]

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