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Dataveillance

AI, privacy and surveillance in a watched world

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A recently launched "Parliamentary Front Against Racist Technologies" is seeking to stop the installation of 20,000 cameras with facial recognition technology in the Brazilian city of São Paulo.

Made up of advocates and researchers, and led by Black councilwoman Elaine Mineiro, the Parliamentary Front held its first public hearing last week in which they discussed how surveillance technology can deepen racism.

"We are worried that the use of facial recognition ... can lead to more violence by the police, and also erode democratic political participation," Tarcizio Silva, policy fellow at the Mozilla Foundation and member of the Parliamentary Front, told Context.

The Smart Sampa project has been controversial from the start.

Military police patrol at the Moinho Favela in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Military police patrol at the Moinho Favela in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

A first procurement notice stated the system had to recognize people by race and identify suspicious activities like "vagrancy", leading to the suspension of the process.

Rights experts like Silva have also denounced the lack of transparency in the procurement process, as the government has failed to justify the need for surveillance technology.

Likewise, companies are not obliged to provide information on how their technologies will be developed or monitored.

The São Paulo government has already signed a 9.2 million reais a month ($1.8 million) contract to install the cameras – leading experts to debate how to promote public participation before states acquire surveillance technology.

"We are trying to pressure governments to make better and transparent decisions on how they invest public money in those technologies," said Silva.

Rest of the world: what’s new?

Asia

Rina Chandran, Asia tech correspondent

The Indian state of Manipur has banned the posting and sharing of videos and images depicting "violent activities" on social media platforms, describing it as a "positive step towards bringing normalcy in the state".

Authorities shut down the internet in Manipur on May 3, saying it was needed to curb rumours and disinformation, and quell violent ethnic clashes. Activists say the shutdown - among the longest in the country to date - makes it harder for women to report abuse.

The new order oversteps constitutional boundaries, "severely limiting freedom of expression and even potentially putting lives at risk", said the Internet Freedom Foundation, a digital rights group.

A logo of mobile application Instagram is seen on a mobile phone, during a conference in Mumbai, India, September 20, 2023. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

A logo of mobile application Instagram is seen on a mobile phone, during a conference in Mumbai, India, September 20, 2023. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

Africa

Kim Harrisberg, South Africa correspondent

Kenyan outsourcing company Majorel told TechCabal that it will lay off 200 of its 1,200 employees after losing a content moderation contract from social media giant Meta.

Earlier this year, Majorel came under fire when content moderators from Kenya said they were being discriminated against when applying for new jobs at Majorel after speaking out against Sama's working conditions.

Sources told TechCabal that some of the affected workers are waiting for the end of the redundancy process before considering legal action against the outsourcing company.

Europe

Adam Smith, UK tech correspondent

The UK's AI summit's flagship initiative will be a voluntary global register of large AI models, according to a new report from Wired. 

Prime minister Rishi Sunak will pitch an AI Safety Institute to attendees, and the British government will propose a register of frontier models that would let governments see inside the black box of AI and get ahead of any potential dangers.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attends the London Tech Week at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London, Britain June 12, 2023. Ian Vogler/Pool via REUTERS

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attends the London Tech Week at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London, Britain June 12, 2023. Ian Vogler/Pool via REUTERS

USA

Zoe Tabary, tech editor

Dozens of U.S. states are suing Meta and Instagram, accusing them of fueling a youth mental health crisis by making their social media platforms addictive. 

“Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens,” according to the complaint filed in the Oakland, California federal court. “Its motive is profit.”

Context reported earlier this year on the wave of lawsuits by parents against social media giants, whom they blame for their children’s mental health crises. 

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