Facial recognition deployments with lax regulation under scrutiny worldwide

Several facial recognition projects around the world have recently come under scrutiny, spurred by concerns of privacy advocates that the technology is not being properly regulated.

In Russia, digital rights group Roskomsvoboda is calling for more transparency in handling citizens’ biometric data collected as part of Face Pay’s Moscow Metro card, and in Singapore, an investigation by Rest of World aims at shaking the “almost uncritical faith in technology” of governmental agencies.

Also, three civil society groups have called for a ban on automatic facial recognition devices and video surveillance technology in Switzerland; RFA reported a widening of China’s alleged use of technology to repress Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and OpenGlobalRights suggested emotion detection surveillance systems may be used to spot individuals unfavorable to the government in North Korea.

Moscow’s Face Pay system needs more transparency, digital rights group

Russian digital privacy activists from Roskomsvoboda said the new biometric system was “a good pretext to put cameras at the turnstiles” reported the New York Times.

The group’s director Artyom Koslyuk said Roskomsvoboda had uncovered evidence that the system is vulnerable to intruders who can use the data and images for criminal purposes, despite Moscow officials insisting the information was securely encrypted.

Following the new findings, Koslyuk called for a more transparent system of control for this and other advanced biometrics technologies that could be used for surveillance purposes

‘We need to be sure there are controls,’’ he told the New York Times. “These improvements can be a double-edged sword.”

Rest of World investigation sheds light on surveillance practices in Singapore

Trust in the surveillance system is high in the country, Rest of World says, with 90 thousand police cameras currently installed across the island nation, and an increasing number of facial recognition cameras and crowd analytics systems being deployed on a daily basis.

According to the technology-focused publication, the technology used as part of these surveillance systems is not new, but “Singapore’s ruling party sees dangers everywhere, and seems increasingly willing to peer individually and en masse into people’s lives.”

The trend became particularly clear in September 2021, when the Home Team Science and Technology Agency deployed its Xavier robots, tasked with checking social distancing and antisocial behavior via artificial intelligence and biometric sensors.

These initiatives are reportedly feeding a sense of growing nervousness in public life, but because of their increasing reach, many individuals in Singapore feel unsafe to voice their dissent.

Swiss petition aims at limiting facial recognition’s reach

Three civil society groups have called for a ban on automatic facial recognition devices and surveillance technology in the country, SWI reports.

Spearheaded by the Swiss chapter of Amnesty International, the organizations said the combination of the two technologies represents a “worrying step towards a comprehensive and permanent system of mass surveillance.”

According to the NGOs, if unregulated, these surveillance technologies will spread quickly across Europe, and Swiss authorities will consequently soon approve the legal basis in the country.

“The target are not only criminals but the entire population,” Erik Schönenberger of advocacy group Digital Society told SWI.

The news comes months after Switzerland’s proposed digital identity framework came under scrutiny amid privacy concerns.

China’s alleged persecution of Uyghurs worsened by surveillance tech

A U.S. bipartisan congressional commission warned that China’s use of technology to repress Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang is widening and could be exported around the world, Radio Free Asia reports.

The hearing was held in Washington and organized by the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

During the session, Co-chairperson Jeff Merkley said that without limitations to protect individuals’ privacy and human rights, technology can be used to control populations, prevent freedom of expression, and undermine democratic institutions. Merkley referred to surveillance drones, facial recognition cameras, mobile phone scans, and an extensive police presence, as well as China’s Digital Silk Road project.

The latter is part of the country’s Belt and Road Initiative to enhance digital connectivity abroad, but according to Merkley, is also “an intrusive ecosystem of internet architecture and surveillance technology aiming to expand the People’s Republic of China’s influence around the world.”

The hearing was held two days after U.S. President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping talked in a virtual meeting to discuss bilateral relations.

According to RFA, the heads of state discussed the Xinjiang situation, but no further details have been disclosed at the time of writing.

Emotion detection tech could enhance surveillance in North Korea: OpenGlobalRights

According to privacy rights activists OpenGlobalRights, the same kinds of surveillance technologies used to allegedly repress Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang could be deployed in North Korea.

The OpenGlobalRights report said that by combining facial recognition and emotion detection, it may become extremely easy for technocratic governments to spot dissidents, even in large crowds.

A similar system is reportedly already being tested on Uyghurs in China, the BBC reported earlier this year, with potentially disastrous implications for privacy rights around the world.

To tackle the issue before the technology becomes embedded into people’s daily life, OpenGlobalRights said democracies have an urgent responsibility to act.

The civil liberties organization has then concluded its article by mentioning Digital Nations, a group of countries collaborating to promote responsible tech use among governments.