MYANMAR PROTESTERS FEAR AI FUELED CRACKDOWN. CCTV cameras, facial recognition technology, digital tracking, and arrests of political dissidents. It’s becoming a familiar story, playing out in hotspots around the world, as regimes are getting more and more aggressive in leveraging technology to crush political dissent.
This time it’s Myanmar. Long-time activist and incumbent President Aung San Suu Kyi appeared to win victory in a November 2020 election. But the country’s military, citing election fraud, took power in February.
Anti-coup protesters have shown that Kyi continues to command popular support. Despite more than 200 people being killed in violent clashes, protests in the country have continued to grow.
Human rights groups are now warning that artificial intelligence and other technology are being employed to quell the unrest and deprive citizens of their rights to protest. Suppression efforts have targeted the cities of Yangon and Mandalay. Hundreds of CCTV cameras had been installed during Kyi’s time in power, as part of a program “to improve governance and curb crime.”
“Even before the protests, the CCTVs were a concern for us, so we would try and avoid them—by taking different routes to go home, for example,” Win Pe Myaing, a protester in Yangon, told Reuters. “We believe the police and the military are using the system to track demonstrations and protests. It’s like a digital dictatorship—the regime is using technology to track and arrest citizens, and that’s dangerous.”
Unsurprisingly, China’s fingerprints are all over the equipment being used to surveil Myanmar protesters. “Safe City,” a system used to combat “crime” in big cities but which can just as easily be used to track virtually anyone for any reason, comes from Huawei, the Communist government-connected technology firm. Huawei has previously earned scrutiny from the U.K., during bidding for 5G technology.
In another bit of irony, Reuters looked askance in January 2020, when the outgoing Trump administration enacted restrictions on Huawei’s U.S. suppliers, shortly before Joe Biden was inaugurated. President Trump had previously issued an executive order in early 2019, effectively banning the company from U.S. communications networks.