Protesters in Myanmar fear they are being tracked with Chinese facial recognition technology, as spiralling violence and street surveillance spark fears of a “digital dictatorship” to replace ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Human rights groups say the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to check on citizens’ movements poses a “serious threat” to their liberty. More than 200 people have been killed since Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi was overthrown in a Feb. 1 coup, triggering mass protests that security forces have struggled to suppress with increasingly violent tactics.
Security forces have focused on stamping out dissent in cities including the capital Naypyitaw, Yangon and Mandalay, where hundreds of CCTV cameras had been installed as part of a drive to improve governance and curb crime. Human Rights Watch has expressed its “heightened concern” over cameras armed with AI technology that can scan faces and vehicle licence plates in public places, and alert authorities to those on a wanted list.
“Even before the protests, the CCTVs were a concern for us, so we would try and avoid them – by taking different routes to go home, for example,” Win Pe Myaing, a protester in Yangon, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.