Chinese Firms Selling AI Surveillance To African Nations

AI tech is rapidly taking off worldwide being implemented from voice recognition to fake videos to road traffic monitoring. It is also increasingly used to monitor and track citizens, according to a new report.

At least 75 of the 176 countries surveyed globally are now using AI for surveillance purposes. This from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The applications include facial recognition, social media and phone surveillance tools and the more. The main suppliers of these systems worldwide are Chinese companies, led by Huawei, which has supplied these technologies to at least 50 nations around the world.

Steven Feldstein, The study’s author, says that these tools were being used to “accomplish a range of policy objectives—some lawful, others that violate human rights, and many of which fall into a murky middle ground.”

African countries still struggle to adopt AI technologies, and the report notes that less than a quarter of countries invest in these systems. That is partly explained by the fact that the continent is still struggling with Internet connectivity.

However, Chinese companies are rapidly penetrating African markets, offering soft loans for governments to buy their equipment and promising to establish and manage these systems. In Kenya, for example, Huawei has helped install video systems that implemented 1,800 HD cameras and 200 HD traffic surveillance systems in Nairobi. In Zimbabwe, the Guangzhou-based CloudWalk developer announced a controversial agreement in 2018 to oversee a large-scale facial recognition program in collaboration with the authorities. With predictive policing is on the rise, but contested in the first world, early implementation of AI in law enforcement in the third world may set a status quo that people will never rebel against.

The debate on AI technologies also occurs when African nations and activists face issues that including digital privacy, information censorship, surveillance and Internet shutdown. With the lack of privacy laws in nations like Kenya, there is concern about how governments will use these data repositories, where they will be stored and who will have access to them.

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