The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have given some governments the permission to exercise some of the control and power they have always wanted to. Although in some cases understandable, some of the measures being implemented leave you wondering if we have lost some of our privacy for good.

One such thing that worries me is the increasing use of Artificial Intelligence-powered surveillance technologies.

Banksy, the in/famous graffiti artist, wrote (with a stencil) "What are you looking at?" next to a CCTV camera. A mockery of the surveillance culture that the western world has adopted. Surveillance is gaining popularity among policymakers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even before the pandemic, across Africa too, there was already an increase by governments in the deployment of AI facial recognition CCTV cameras. The main reason given before the COVID-19 pandemic was that they would curb crime. Now, the reason used is for contact tracing and screening (heat sensors).

These reasons, at a certain level, are valid. However, my fear is that the solutions will be abused. Not intentionally, but sometimes because bias that is coded in before they are deployed, creeps in.

We’ve already had a glimpse and suspicion of what this bias can be when the City of Johannesburg tweeted that the AI-powered CCTV cameras it is going to deploy (a project I suspect is now on hold) will be able to β€œdetect criminal behavior and dispatch response teams.” This likely means there is a predefined type of person (otherwise known as profiling) precoded for the system to identify and classify as a criminal even before any criminal activity happens.

We just need to be careful that in trying to solve one problem, we don’t create other bigger problems.

Quote of the day

β€œGovernment and agencies including law enforcement need to practice extreme caution and openness if measures involve surveillance technologies.” (Tweet this)

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