Imagine a government tracking everywhere you walked over the last month without your permission or knowledge. Imagine the stores of a shopping mall using facial recognition to share information with each other about each shelf that you browse and product you buy without asking you first. This has long been the stuff of science fiction and popular movies like ‘Enemy of the State’ and ‘1984’ – but now it’s on the verge of becoming possible.
–Brad Smith – Microsoft President
Governments are turning to artificial intelligence and data collecting for policing and surveillance. In a world where people live in fear of terrorism and cities face high crime rates, government institutions in various countries are turning to biometric system technology and predictive policing to assist in safeguarding their citizens. Companies such as Sense Time , the Chongqing Institute of Green and Intelligent Technology are selling biometric technology to states. Currently the mass surveillance industry is most active in the United States , China, the United Kingdom , France and Israel. The Biometrics Research Group projects that the global law enforcement biometrics market will be worth $18 billion by 2020.
Why is it important?
The surveillance industry is expanding its services by creating systems that enable police departments to make civilians, communities and crime pivotal areas more visible. Various cities are testing predictive policing systems.
- Heat list testing in Chicago is a program that ranks citizens from 1 – 500 according to the risk of violence they pose. This then influences police strategy in confrontational situations.
- Police in China have been equipped with smart glasses that have facial recognition features. The glasses are linked to a database of criminal records.
- Interpol is developing an international voice biometrics database that will be shared with various police bodies. Titled the Identification Integrated Project, the system includes voice samples from 192 law enforcement agencies. This will enable users to use voice recognition technology to match suspects against database records. The system can also match samples against social media accounts.
The butterfly effect
Facial recognition-powered government surveillance is an extraordinary invasion of the privacy of all citizens and a slippery slope to losing control of our identities altogether.
-Brian Brackeen – Kairos , AI experts
Companies have created technology that enables consumers to use their biometrics to gain access to their devices. This is mainly driven by the concept of making people’s lives more efficient. However, the same technology has been sold to governments for surveillance purposes which is raising concerns about privacy.
There’s been a backlash against companies doing business with governments. In the US, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and nearly 40 other organisations have called for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to stop selling Rekognition , its facial recognition program, to the state. Employees and shareholders are concerned the technology could be ‘unfairly and disproportionately target people of colour, immigrants and civil society organisations’.
In the wake of more governments testing facial recognition technology, organisations are calling for the regulation of these systems. Microsoft wants the US government to start thinking about laws around the use of facial recognition technology as a form of surveillance. US lawmakers have demanded an investigation into the commercial and governmental use of this technology, as well as its possible abuse.
The EU has started working on putting policies in place to protect citizens’ information and privacy. In May 2018, the EU set out a new policy titled General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which restricts the amount of personal, biometric and social media data companies can collect. In the US, states such as Texas and Washington have passed laws that regulate the collection and storage of biometric data.
Gen Market Insights predicts that China will dominate the global market of facial recognition devices by 2023. The government hopes to be able to identify citizens within a timeframe of three seconds. There are currently an estimated 170 million surveillance cameras in sixteen areas in China. Since the implementation of this technology, 2000 people have been arrested via the system.
Various countries are testing the use of facial recognition surveillance. Currently the US is leading the world in the use of predictive policing and AI in its courtrooms.
Zimbabwe’s government plans to use facial recognition technology at their international border posts, points of entry and airports.
The Singapore government plans to install lampposts with facial recognition cameras.
The Australian Department of Home Affairs has proposed a national facial recognition service.
By Khumo Theko
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Image credit: Matthew Henry