Artificial intelligence surveillance is basically everywhere

A fascinating new report details just how expansive the use of artificial intelligence surveillance is around the world. In a report released on 17 September, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace outlines the global expansion of AI surveillance, the vast majority of it being rolled out since 2017.

According to the report, “startling developments keep emerging, from the onset of deepfake videos that blur the line between truth and falsehood, to advanced algorithms that can beat the best players in the world in multiplayer poker. Businesses harness AI capabilities to improve analytic processing; city officials tap AI to monitor traffic congestion and oversee smart energy metering. Yet a growing number of states are deploying advanced AI surveillance tools to monitor, track, and surveil citizens to accomplish a range of policy objectives—some lawful, others that violate human rights, and many of which fall into a murky middle ground.”

Researcher Steven Feldstein, developed an index to keep track of this proliferation. The AI Global Surveillance Index (AIGSI) compiles empirical data on AI surveillance use for 176 countries around the world. It isn’t intended to track legal versus illegal use of AI but is intended to show how new surveillance capabilities are transforming the ability of governments to monitor and track individuals or systems.

There are some startling findings:

  • AI surveillance technology is spreading at a faster rate to a wider range of countries than experts have commonly understood. At least seventy-five out of 176 countries globally are actively using AI technologies for surveillance purposes. 
  • China is a major driver of AI surveillance worldwide. Technology linked to Chinese companies—particularly Huawei, Hikvision, Dahua, and ZTE—supply AI surveillance technology in sixty-three countries, thirty-six of which have signed onto China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • China is not the only country supplying advanced surveillance tech worldwide. U.S. companies are also active in this space. AI surveillance technology supplied by U.S. firms is present in thirty-two countries. The most significant U.S. companies are IBM (eleven countries), Palantir (nine countries), and Cisco (six countries). 
  • Liberal democracies are major users of AI surveillance. The index shows that 51 percent of advanced democracies deploy AI surveillance systems. Governments in full democracies are deploying a range of surveillance technology, from safe city platforms to facial recognition cameras. The most important factor determining whether governments will deploy this technology for repressive purposes is the quality of their governance.
  • Governments in autocratic and semi-autocratic countries are more prone to abuse AI surveillance than governments in liberal democracies. Some autocratic governments—for example, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia—are exploiting AI technology for mass surveillance purposes.
  • Countries accessing Chinese AI surveillance technology has risen to forty-seven out of sixty-five countries in 2019.

The research comes with an interactive map for drilling down by country, technology application and supplier.

Country of origin for your AI surveillance tech

Or look for who uses facial recognition:

The more people understand how pervasive and widespread the use of AI is for surveillance, the more we can expect demands for new kinds of privacy protections and human rights that recognize the power of AI to erode democratic norms.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

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