AI, brain scans and cameras: the spread of police surveillance technology

A brainwave reader that can detect lies. The tiny cameras that come in vape pens and disposable coffee cups. Massive video cameras that zoom in over a mile to capture faces and license plates.

The new technologies were put on sale for the security forces of the future at a police conference in Dubai in March. Away from the general public eye, the event provided a rare glimpse of what tools are now available to law enforcement around the world: better and harder-to-detect surveillance, facial recognition software that automatically Tracks people in cities, and computers break into phones

Advances in artificial intelligence, drones and facial recognition have increased global police surveillance activity. Israeli hacking software, US investigative tools and Chinese computer vision algorithms can all be bought and mixed to create an espionage cocktail of astonishing effectiveness.

Driven by increased spending from Middle Eastern countries such as the United Arab Emirates – host of the conference and an aggressive adopter of next-generation security technologies – the event highlighted how mass surveillance equipment was once adopted. They were widespread only in China, spreading. The growing use of technologies as officers and weapons signals an era of policing based on software, data and code, raising questions about the impact on people’s privacy and how political power is exercised.

A senior lecturer in law at Queen Mary University of London, who has studied police use of the technology, said, “A lot of surveillance can be apparently benign or used to improve a city. ” “But the other side of the coin is that it can give you incredible insight into people’s daily lives. It may have had an unintended chilling effect or may have been a device for actual repression.

The gold rush was evident at a convention center in central Dubai, where uniformed police representatives from around the world searched for drones that could be launched and operated remotely. Chinese camera makers showed off software to identify crowding. American companies such as Dell and Cisco offered police services. Cellbret, an Israeli manufacturer of cellphone break-in systems, was demonstrating in a “government area” that was cordoned off from the rest of the conference.

Other companies sold facial recognition glasses and sentiment analysis software, in which an algorithm determines a person’s mood based on facial expressions. Some products, such as the Segway with Gun Mount, pushed the limits of usefulness.

“The police nowadays don’t think about the guns or guns they have,” said Major General Khaled Alrazouki, general director of AI at Dubai Police. ,

With its deep pockets, serious security challenges and autocratic government, the Emirates, a major US ally in the Middle East, has become a case study in the potential and risks of such policing techniques. The devices can help prevent crime and terrorist attacks, but can also become an undemocratic basis for political power.

Emirati authorities, led by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, are monitoring critics and activists, often referred to by his initials MBZ. Amnesty International and other groups have accused the oil-rich country of human rights abuses against opponents, including the NSO group’s use of Israel’s Pegasus phone spyware. Protest and free speech are severely restricted in the authoritarian monarchy, part of what the government has said is an effort to combat Islamic extremism.

Presight AI, an Emirati-based technology company with ties to the country’s leadership, sells software similar to products popular with China’s police. During the convention, the software used cameras and AI to identify people, store data about their attendance, and track their routes throughout the event.

Author of the book “Digital Authoritarianism in the Middle East” and professor at Hamad bin Khalifa University in Qatar, Mark O. Jones said the lack of transparency and oversight in how surveillance technologies are used leaves open the potential for abuse.

“The region is so secure and the UAE under the MBZ is so focused on security that technology has almost been idolized,” he added.

The cameras are especially prevalent in the two largest emirates, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Dubai, flashier and freer, with cameras tucked away in plain corners. In Abu Dhabi, the more conservative center of political power, cameras dominate the cityscape. The gray metal towers that support them in the shape of a T and L hang over the streets at predictable intervals.

General Alrazouki, general manager of Dubai’s police force, said in an interview that the cameras were part of a years-long campaign to become a world leader in police technology – although the emirate, which has a population of about 3.5 million, is known for its low crime rate. . In recent years, Emirati officers have visited police departments and businesses in China, Europe and the United States to gain ideas. The general said consulting firms KPMG and Gartner had been hired to help with the process. Dubai bought facial recognition systems from Chinese companies including Hikvision and Huawei.

KPMG, Gartner, Huawei and Hikvision declined to comment.

“We choose what is the best practice in each country and try to perfect it and inject it into our system,” General Alrazouki said. He said that “the Chinese are the best” in computer vision and facial recognition.

Jones said the Middle East has become a “Petri dish of different actors”, with China, Russia and the United States competing for influence through their technologies. The large presence of Chinese technologies – most of the cameras seen on the streets are Chinese – is a sign of the country’s growing influence in the Persian Gulf.

The Dubai Police Department operates the next-generation systems from its headquarters located north of the city’s skyscrapers and malls. One such system, a citywide facial recognition program called Oyun – Arabic for eyes – can identify anyone passing one of at least 10,000 cameras, and airport customs images and resident ID cards. Can link to the database of The police are also requiring the companies to provide video from their security systems to a centralized government database.

“From the moment you enter the airport, the whole city is under watch,” General Alrazouki said. He said the system served the police’s “clients” – a general term for the public. “People, they’re happy with it,” he said.

The technology capabilities were demonstrated at a police command centre, where officers in Dubai could view live camera feeds and the locations of all emergency vehicles on a giant screen.

“With technology and smart cameras, if you commit a crime within a minute, I know which direction someone is going,” said Lt. Bilal Al Tayer, Acting Director of the Command and Control Center Col.

One advanced tool was predictive policing software, built by Dubai-based engineers with machine learning, that identifies where thieves might strike next. Officials said the 68 percent accuracy rate was double that of the older model. In some patrol cars, mapping software provides officers with specific routes to travel based on crime data.

Another algorithm based on car accident data predicted the nearly 4,000 most dangerous drivers in Dubai will receive text message reminders to drive carefully. The most represented poor driver category was Emirati older men, followed by older South Asian men. (Nationality is a factor in the algorithm.)

At the Dubai Police Fair, officials from the Emirati Ministry of Interior, which oversees the kingdom’s security and has access to all police cameras, demonstrated how to use a tablet to scan the eyesight of conference participants And request information when it lands. Also the latest pictures of Customs. Also shown was a pair of headphones that would detect when a part of the brain related to memories is active, a ministry official said was helpful in determining during interrogations whether a suspect is lying or No.

Among the cubicles at the conference was Lt. Gen. Abdullah Khalifa Al Marri, Commander-in-Chief of the Dubai Police Force. The new skills on display, however intrusive, are a means to a long-elusive, utopian goal of “zero crime”.

“We are not infringing on people’s privacy,” he said. “We’re just observing.”

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