Spying on citizens with artificial intelligence is not something that is done exclusively in China.

A new report shows that at least 75 countries are actively using AI tools such as facial recognition for illegally surveilling their citizens.

But that’s not the worst. There are countries that illegally monitor their citizens at the request of other governments. There are States that want to steal the property of their citizens, because they may be suspected of having committed crimes, without these citizens having the opportunity to prove their innocence.

When people talk about surveillance through artificial intelligence they think of China. Recent protests in Hong Kong are a good example of this. But illegal surveillance of citizens, even those who do not participate in protests or who have an active political life has spread far beyond Chinese borders.

The use of this technology is an increasingly global issue and more and more countries are following the Chinese trail in the deployment of artificial intelligence to track citizens, according to a research group report Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP).

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is a think tank based in Washington D.C. created in 1910 by philanthropist and businessman Andrew Carnegie. He is the editor of the prestigious Foreign Policy magazine.

The organization figures that at least 75 countries that are actively using AI tools such as facial recognition for surveillance. The United States or allies such as France or Germany are among them.

CEIP has relied on public records and media reports in 176 countries to conduct its investigation, and emphasizes that it makes no distinction between legitimate and illegitimate uses of artificial intelligence.

What do we need to know about surveillance and why?

  1. Which countries are adopting AI-based surveillance technology?
  2. Which countries are surveilling their citizens at the request of their allies?
  3. Are some countries being obliged to monitor their citizens for politically and militarily more powerful countries?
  4. What specific types of AI-based surveillance technology or other types are governments deploying?
  5. Which countries are deploying this technology?
  6. Which technology companies are facilitating government surveillance?

CEIP detects that the country uses both Chinese and US technology in areas such as facial recognition, smart surveillance and city security.

“It turns out many cases of surveillance found in municipalities in Germany, Italy, Holland and Spain were cited on the Huawei website,” says the report.

The Chinese company, in fact, is one of the main suppliers of artificial intelligence technology to several States, together with SICE and IBM.

Globally, the report argues that it is the Chinese led by Huawei and Hikvision that are supplying much of AI surveillance technology to countries around the world.

Other companies include NEC from Japan, Palantir and Cisco from the US. None of these companies wanted to comment on the report when questioned about their participation on illegal surveillance.

Introducing artificial intelligence to monitor citizens is not exclusive to authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes. But perhaps it will be a surprise to learn that liberal democracies are the main users of AI surveillance. 51% of these countries implement AI surveillance systems.

“I hope citizens ask more difficult questions about how this type of technology is used and what kind of impacts it will have,” says report author Steven Feldstein, a Carnegie Endowment member and associate professor at Boise State University.

Many of the projects cited in Feldstein’s report are “smart city” systems in which a municipal government installs a series of sensors, cameras and other devices connected to the Internet to collect information and communicate with each other.

These systems are often used to manage traffic or save energy, but they also have utilities in public surveillance and security tasks, says the scientist.

Obviously, China is the absolute leader in this regard, and has not only the aforementioned Huawei and Hikvision, but with many other smaller companies that have algorithms capable of detecting faces and sending the information instantly to the police.

This is the case of Dragonfly Eye, the artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm that the Chinese company Yitu has developed to detect faces through a sophisticated facial recognition system.

“AI is a faster and faster revolution than the industrial one,” Yitu co-founder Zhu Long said recently.

People are engaged in a debate about whether it is something real or a bubble, but advances in facial recognition confirm it has enormous potential to violate all levels of privacy.

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