Resisting the rise of facial recognition

When the government announced the project, it gave few details. But SHARE found a 2018 press release on Huawei’s website (which the firm deleted) that announced tests of high-definition cameras in Belgrade. The document said that the cameras had helped Serbian police to solve several major criminal cases and improve security at major sporting events. This year, the government disclosed that the scheme involves purchasing 8,000 cameras for use in police cars, as body-worn cameras and on buildings.

“There are many questions that remain unanswered,” Krivokapić says. “For example, where will the data be stored? In Serbia or in China? Will Huawei have access to the data?” After SHARE and others pressed for more details, the Serbian government said that data wouldn’t be collected or kept by Huawei. But Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, California, says that one of the main reasons large technology firms — whether in China or elsewhere — get involved in supplying AI surveillance technology to governments is that they expect to collect a mass of data that could improve their algorithms.

Serbia models its data-protection laws on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), but it is unclear whether the interior ministry’s plans satisfy the country’s laws, Serbia’s data-protection commissioner said in May. (The interior ministry declined to comment for this article, and Huawei did not respond to questions.)

Overall, there haven’t been studies proving that ‘safe’ or ‘smart’ cities reduce crime, says Pete Fussey, a sociologist at the University of Essex in Colchester, UK, who researches human rights, surveillance and policing. He says anecdotal claims are being leveraged into a proof of principle for a surveillance technology that is still very new. “The history of technology and law enforcement is littered with examples of hubris and outlandish claims,” he says. “It’s reasonably uncontroversial to say that surveillance cameras in general are more effective for tackling crimes against things, rather than people. Once you start getting into automated surveillance, it becomes more difficult, partly because it is not used as much.”

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