How China Rules Using Data, AI And Internet Surveillance

Security cameras are capturing images of you without your knowledge. Various records are being kept of your footsteps and itineraries, showing where you have been, and when. Such a state of things has become the norm in our society today. Surveillance technologies are making progress from day to day. The use of facial recognition technology relying on artificial intelligence (AI) systems has spread in many parts of the world in recent years. Such systems can instantaneously track the movements of droves of people and notify the authorities thereof. We are left to wonder how conscious the citizens are of the trends that are speeding up in the name of crime prevention, anti-terrorism and other designations. One might ask if discussions on human rights and privacy are not being left behind.

An extreme case can be seen in China, where police officers on patrol in some cities have recently begun wearing eyeglasses equipped with AI cameras with facial recognition capabilities. That measure has reportedly allowed police to spot suspects on wanted lists at venues of events and elsewhere. Systems have been introduced on a trial basis for using facial recognition technology, instead of the presentation of an ID card, in identifying individuals, such as at ticket gates to high-speed rail stations and an entrance gate to a university campus. Massive screening that relies on state-of-the-art technology certainly makes for effective security measures. Citizens may also benefit from the convenience of similar systems, which reduce their burdens, such as when they no longer have to stand in line for ID checks. There are concerns, however, about who is going to operate such systems in what manner and for what purposes.

There has been a report on the use of similar technology in an unusual manner in China. In the country’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, which faces an ethnic minority issue, the authorities are reportedly alerted, through facial recognition cameras, when targeted individuals have ventured more than 300 meters from their homes, workplaces and commuting routes. Surveillance should not be there to contain criticism of the government. Violation of privacy on the grounds of thoughts and beliefs, race, religion and other attributes to be designated intentionally by the authorities amounts to obvious infringement of human rights. Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, died a year ago today. His wife, Liu Xia, was placed under unjustified house arrest for nearly eight years. It makes one uneasy to see a regime like China’s, which resorts to sheer force in containing dissent, being armed with powerful surveillance systems.

In Japan, by comparison, there is a guarantee of basic freedoms, such as of speech, assembly and mobility. That said, reams of personal information are being gathered by businesses and other entities through the Internet, cell phones, security cameras and other means of technology. Edward Snowden’s leaks have revealed that a U.S. intelligence agency is operating a global wiretapping network. The problem, therefore, does not end with China. How to use state-of-the-art technology for the sake of security measures will likely emerge as an issue in the run-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympic Games and other events. Sufficient transparency should be guaranteed with surveillance systems that target general members of the public as well. The citizens, for their part, should also keep a proper watch over the authorities so privacy rights will not be unjustifiably infringed upon.

Credit: The Editorial from The Asahi Shimbun, July 13 2018.

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https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611815/who-needs-democracy-when-you-have-data/