Researchers warn of increased China-style AI surveillance

At least 75 out of 176 countries globally are actively using artificial intelligence for surveillance purposes.

China daily life
Largest supplier of such AI tech is China, providing it to countries such as Kenya and Laos [Andy Wong/AP]

An increasing number of nations is deploying artificial intelligence (AI) to conduct surveillance of its citizens, researchers say.

According to a report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a growing number of countries is deploying advanced AI surveillance tools to monitor, track, and surveil citizens for “a range of policy objectives – some lawful, others that violate human rights, and many of which fall into a murky middle ground”.

“AI surveillance technology is spreading at a faster rate to a wider range of countries than experts have commonly understood,” the report said.

At least 75 out of 176 countries globally are actively using AI technologies for surveillance purposes, it said, adding the nations use so-called “smart city”, facial recognition systems, and smart policing. 


“I hope citizens will ask tougher questions about how this type of technology is used and what type of impacts it will have,” said the report’s author Steven Feldstein, a Carnegie Endowment fellow and associate professor at Boise State University.

The report noted it is liberal democracies using surveillance technology the most.

“The index shows that 51 percent of advanced democracies deploy AI surveillance systems. In contrast, 37 percent of closed autocratic states, 41 percent of electoral autocratic/competitive autocratic states, and 41 percent of electoral democracies/illiberal democracies deploy AI surveillance technology,” the research showed.

However, repressive regimes are “more prone to abuse AI”, the report said, adding countries such as China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia are exploiting it for mass surveillance purposes.

‘Liberal surveillance’?

Feldstein said he was surprised by how many democratic governments in Europe and elsewhere are racing ahead to install AI surveillance such as facial recognition, automated border controls, and algorithmic tools to predict when crimes might occur. 


“I thought it would be most centred in the Gulf states or countries in China’s orbit,” he said.

The largest supplier of these AI technologies is China, whose companies are selling it to the likes of Kenya, Laos, Mongolia, Uganda, and Uzbekistan, countries that – according to the report – “might otherwise not access this technology”.

Tech companies involved include Huawei, ZTE and Hikvision.

The US also provides many nations with the capability to track citizens, with companies such as IBM, Palantir and Cisco the main sellers.

“Its use by repressive regimes to engineer crackdowns against targeted populations has already sounded alarm bells,” the report said. “But even in countries with strong rule of law traditions, AI gives rise to troublesome ethical questions.

“Governments have an obligation to provide better answers and fuller transparency about how they will use these new intrusive tools.”

Source: Al Jazeera