Yes, Mr Orwell, ‘big eyes and ears’ are everywhere.
The global expansion of AI surveillance is underway. Cameras are literally everywhere, but are we aware of them? Surveillance is defined as the close observation of people or groups of people — their behavior and activities — to manage, direct, influence or protect. Methods of surveillance include biometric surveillance, camera observation, GPS tracking, data mining and stakeouts.
Surveillance technology refers to the collection of audio, visual, thermal, biometric, location and electronic information by electronic devices (cameras, cell phones, etc.), satellites, and drones (UAVs). Surveillance technology such as police body cameras performs data collection via video surveillance, biometrics, face recognition, chips, tracking devices and big data. Governments can track a citizen's every movement using GPS. They can completely control cell phones, listen to phone calls, scan mobile networks using voice recognition, read text messages, capture pictures, videos and even change emails.
Mass surveillance utilises systems and technologies that collect, analyze and generate data to monitor the citizens. Mass surveillance impacts the population by causing systematic interference with people's right to privacy and their freedom to express and protest. The first mass surveillance regime that violated people's right to privacy and freedom of expression in the UK was exposed by Edward Snowden in 2013, which shocked the world. The public was informed that the National Security Agency is working closely with Google, Facebook (Meta) and Verizon to conduct warrantless surveillance of American's international communications on a massive scale. In the increasingly interconnected world, communications and data are circulating. Everyone on the planet is generating data about its location, association, and the most intimate details of our lives. The technologies we depend on are also the danger of surveillance. Technology giants have expanded their capacities for personal data collection and analyses.
The US National Security Agency's mass surveillance has expanded dramatically in the years since 11th September 2001, often secretly, and many spy programs have continued. The Congress and Foreign Intelligence surveillance authorized the warrantless surveillance of people's phone calls, emails and private international communications. Government surveillance is undeniable and can have far-reaching consequences for people's lives. People of certain religions or physical appearance could be subject to discrimination in the name of US national security. This surveillance is harmful, often wrongly puts people on the watch list of national security and allows the government to endanger lives. Congress must end mass spying, but we know that it will never stop; it will only continue to increase.
The Chinese government is developing multi-layered and multi-dimensional mass surveillance systems. China claims to use mass surveillance technology to fight the "spread of coronavirus." Digital surveillance is perceived as a successful development in China, compared to Western nations which are critical of mass surveillance and ask questions about what else this data may be used for. The Chinese government has required their population to download a smartphone app that tracks their movements. It assigns them red, yellow, or green colors corresponding to their asserted public health risk in this age of Coronavirus. These color codes regulate access to subways, malls, and other public spaces. The app shares information with police, setting a precedent for a new model of automated social control that could persist long after the epidemic subsides.
The Chinese Ministry of Public Security, its national police, and other agencies in 2015 created an omnipresent, completely connected, fully controllable nationwide video-surveillance network as a public-safety program. They installed cameras in classrooms, college dormitories and even restrooms to ensure only students’ have access. Targeting young people is particularly concerning; parents and students complained about the loss of privacy, with no positive result. China’s concept of future ‘smart cities,’ where extensive data collection can track citizens' behavior and cut down on crime are without any consideration of privacy and security risks. China has also significantly increased control over its already censored cyberspace. Mass video surveillance with facial recognition technology, voice-recognition software, an intrusive program of DNA collection, and a nationwide Social Credit System intends to control the conduct of every citizen and turn the innovative technologies into tools for manipulating citizens.
The system called the Great Firewall is blocking sites like YouTube, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress. But Facebook (Meta) and Google secretly developed search services in China by satisfying official demands. China's Skynet is the largest video-surveillance network in the world. The Chinese authorities asserted that video surveillance and voice recognition software would assist with counterterrorism and in some cases with drug trafficking, kidnapping, fraud and blackmail. Building up the country's DNA database combined with other forms of big data and powerful technologies such as facial recognition and AI has the potential to become a great instrument of surveillance and repression. The massive Chinese program of DNA-data collection seriously disrupts citizens' privacy and contributes to unfair treatment of ethnic minorities (Uygurs) and migrant workers.
Technological advances have made surveillance-AI-equipped cameras more effective instruments for facial recognition, which forms a considerable amount of facial data collected. Associated database officials will be able to cross-check data from cameras all over China.
The Social Credit System (SCS) covers the entire society and involves tracking the activities and assessments of people and enterprises. Through the SCS, state authorities can bundle citizens' national ID code information, from tax payments, personal finances and business registrations to traffic violations and more. Authorities and cooperating companies operating social credit systems can quietly guide and influence behavior. Individuals with good credit records can be rewarded, and those with bad histories may face negative consequences.
Measures for citizens with unpaid taxes, debts, or traffic fines include rejecting applications and forming social credit blacklists. It is very concerning that the Chinese government could export its censorship — surveillance technologies that they have developed — to other authoritarian governments. China's model for a better social system is nothing but the term of state repression and total control over society. Its capabilities include areas such as healthcare, education, state security and environmental protection, where potential applications include internet censorship and analyzing surveillance camera footage to trace people's movements. Control over society is a nightmare for (Chinese) citizens and those worldwide who value human freedom.
In the midst of a pandemic, in June 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree establishing a centralized database of Russian citizens. This database becomes central to all validation processes, that is, for recognition of citizens. The state has introduced digital instruments and cameras to control its citizens. For example, the Moscow metro has introduced Face Pay, automated payment at metro stations by recognizing facial features. Russian financial giants and banks have started collecting biometric data from their clients, including face recognition and voice recordings.
Everything becomes available just through one click, which means more efficient public administration and the highest degree of control over citizens. Intrusive omnipresent surveillance is growing during Covid-19, and personal and health data reports are being used to control citizens, such as the widespread use of contact tracing technology (QR codes and green pass). Fighting the Covid-19 pandemic has led to almost continuous surveillance in many countries worldwide and presents the greatest threat to the right to privacy. Policymakers must ask hard questions about the efficacy and advantages of tracking, versus severe threats to confidentiality. Public health surveillance is used for systematic collection, analysis, and interpretation of data for preventing and controlling diseases, and at the same time, a tool for targeting and monitoring. All governments are tracking the movement of people and tapping cell phone locations for public health surveillance purposes in the fight against Covid-19. Mass digital location data and surveillance cameras surely help investigate crimes and acts of violence. Still, smartphone location data provide an intimate view of a person's life.
One of the most powerful surveillance tools ever made is the facial recognition software that maps, analyses and measures critical features of a face and then verifies the identity of a face in a photograph or video. Like any technology, facial recognition itself is just software, but how humans use it and how the tool impacts our civil and human rights is what matters. Many people interact with facial recognition to unlock their phones, organize their photos, or secure their devices. But how governments and companies use it will significantly impact people's lives through racial profiling and protester identification. Facial recognition is practical; it can monitor crowds for suspected criminals, help identify child victims, and increase security at airports and border crossings. Facial recognition is being used to influence social behavior in China. But the more we use facial recognition, the more we become accustomed to it.
Surveillance UAVs/drones and satellites are a growing market. They are deployed in many situations, from surveillance to military intervention, raising broad concerns regarding their usage (consider civilian casualties caused by US drone strikes). The UN and international organizations widely discuss the use of drones and UAVs. Drones can carry live-feed video, infrared cameras, thermal sensors and radar. Drones can be used to survey an area of high criminal activity, for emergency services to investigate a disaster, monitor borders and provide continuous data. Surveillance via drone has many advantages. They can enter confined spaces, cover large and complex areas, produce minimal noise, provide imagery that the human eye cannot detect and follow objects. Crewless aerial vehicles/drones are used in almost all industries and the military, virtually everywhere.
Although satellites are expensive to deploy and have limitations (because they need to be targeted toward specific areas and can only spot objects of a particular size), they are widely used as part of aerial surveillance. There are surveillance satellites, weather satellites and military satellites used for spying. Satellites and aerial surveillance are used for monitoring of environmental phenomena (weather reports), mapping of location (global positioning systems used to navigate journeys) or transfer of data in remote regions, like satellite telephones or television, and achieved a variety of missions such as the observation of earth from space. Satellites rotate around the Earth, cannot get lost in space and will never fall, and there is no resistance in space because of their gravity and speed. Currently, three thousand active satellites are orbiting Earth.
Satellites and drones owned by governments and agencies (such as Frontex) monitor migration flow and aerial surveillance. NGOs, humanitarian organizations and border control agencies utilize satellites to monitor refugee camps and the movement of migrant's boats. They monitored and documented the deaths and the violations of the migrants. Suppose they can see where the migrants are at every moment, then why they were not saved? Instead hundreds of them were left to die in the Mediterranean Sea and the English Channel. The United Kingdom and France use drones and satellite communication to monitor the channel and people attempting to cross the channel, calling it maritime operations ‘search and rescue.’ The naval guards (both UK and French) located the boat with migrants but didn't save them. They let them drown; this was a terrible tragedy in December 2021.
Technology should be used only for humanitarian purposes. Today it is almost impossible, and in the near future it will be completely impossible to disappear from the state's radar. The corona pandemic is accelerating technocratic processes of destroying democracy; digital control takes place in almost all world countries. We can not hide from the all-seeing eye of the state.