The world is approaching a new cold war with authoritarian technologies

In addition to the SCO, Venezuela’s autocratic regime announced in 2017 a smart identity card for its citizens that aggregated employment, voting, and health information using the Chinese telecommunications company ZTE. And Huawei, another Chinese telecommunications corporation, boasts a global network of 700 locations. smart city technology, according to the company’s 2021 annual report. This is more than in 2015, when the company had about 150 international contracts in cities.

Chinese surveillance platforms used for law enforcement and public safety

Democracies are also involved in digital authoritarianism. The US has a powerful surveillance system based on Chinese technology; A recent study by industry research group Top10VPN showed over 700,000 camera networks in the US operated by Chinese companies Hikvision and Dahua.

American companies also support much of the digital authoritarianism industry and are key players in complex supply chains that make isolation and accountability difficult. Intel, for example, powers the servers for Tiandy, a Chinese company known for developing “smart interrogation chairs” that are reportedly used in torture.

Hikvision and Dahua camera networks outside of China

Beyond code

Digital authoritarianism goes beyond software and hardware. More broadly, it is about how a state can use technology to increase its control over its citizens.

For example, Internet outages caused by state actors have been increasing year by year in the last decade. The ability of a state to shut down the Internet is related to its degree of ownership of the Internet infrastructure, which is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes such as China and Russia. And as the Internet becomes more important to all aspects of life, the power of power outages to destabilize and harm people is increasing.

Earlier this year, when anti-government protests swept through Kazakhstan, a member of the SCO, the state almost completely shut down the Internet for five days. During this time, Russian troops attacked major cities to crush dissent. Blackout cost the country over $400 million and disable essential services.

Other tactics include usage patterns data fusion and artificial intelligence to process surveillance data. At last year’s SCO summit, Chinese representatives held a panel on the strategic algorithms of a thousand cities, who instructed the audience on how to develop a “national data brain” that integrates different forms of financial data and uses artificial intelligence to analyze and make sense of it. According to the SCO website, 50 countries are “negotiating” with the “Strategic Algorithms of a Thousand Cities” initiative.

As a result, the use of facial recognition technology is spreading around the world, and there has also been increased investment in advanced visual computing technologies that help make sense of camera footage, especially in Russia.

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