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By Agustina Pasaragua. Translation Nadia Sol Schneider.

Nowadays, no human on Earth can escape from technology. In fact, apps have become a mediator in several areas of our lives that are crucial for our existence. Technology changed our way to interact with our surroundings, how we relate with other people, how we move through the city, and the way we access services.

 We have an abundance of solutions, benefits, and even experiences. But not everything is rosy. Our dependency on gadgets and digital tools has transformed our routine into a lifestyle.

We can also give an opinion about the services we use through internet qualification that generates a profile about what we are interested in, But, what would happen if we could rate in real-time other people’s actions? 

We believed that this was something that could only happen in Black Mirror, but we were wrong. In China, the use of Big Data for mass surveillance is on an all-time high. The country monitors its citizens through two technological tools: Artificial Intelligence and data processing.

The main reason behind the implementation of these sophisticated systems of surveillance and censorship is to guarantee ¨the safety¨ of the country.  For this reason, since 2018 China has made use of apps to rate their citizen’s actions, and therefore, apply sanctions: From skipping a traffic light, paying taxes on time, or complying with the so-called citizen duty. The higher the score, the better the citizen is as a result.

Based on this experience, China decided to use AI to control its population to an extreme, and today the AI systems have a direct impact on the people’s daily activities with systems of facial recognition, text-to-image-based pictures, and audio surveillance to know where they are, what they see, and what they say.

Nowadays, the use of AI and Big Data still generates concern. Recently they implemented a tracking system in school uniforms and a facial recognition system that allows the government to monitor when the students fall asleep in class or if they bunk off from school.

Illustrative image of school uniform with GPS. Font: The Vergue

Illustrative image of school uniform with GPS. Font: The Vergue

Moreover, the Chinese police make use of goggles with facial recognition software that allows them to track their citizens and identify wanted criminals. Different organizations are pointing out that these technological advances are not being used to create a freer society in China, but quite the opposite.

 

 

Where lies the privacy of citizens? For what purposes are these tools used and what others will come?

 

Making use of Big Data analysis, the country has adopted a compulsory credit system since 2020 to collect information, monitor, assess, and shape people’s behavior through social and economic processes.

This scenario is due to two elementary factors: on the one hand, 85% of Chinese companies are active in the artificial intelligence sector and on the other, the Chinese company Sensetime is the largest supplier of technology in  the streets.

On a positive note, we can also find cases like the Chinese city of Hangzhou, which suffers from traffic jams. The city authorities made use of AI to significantly reduce traffic delays through the use of cameras and efficient computerization of signs and traffic lights.

However, this situation does not only occur in China, but also in Europe and Latin America. In Europe, there is the ConductaTM Ciudadanos platform, a joint initiative of the State with the technology company Tissaty that promotes the involvement of citizens in any type of activity related to the public sector, through a system that recognizes and rewards their participation. These rewards help recycling, report incidents and promote greater and better use of municipal services.

‘New technologies are typical of the context of globalization in which we live, but it will depend on our uses if they end up being a problem or a solution’

In Spain exists dozen, an application that incorporates anonymous ratings in work environments to evaluate the personalities of the colleagues they work with. While in Mexico they use Peeple, which allows their users to rate movies, restaurants, hotels, makeup, clothing lines, places to visit, books, and even people they know. With this application, you could send from one to five stars to your co-workers, your friends and even your ex-boyfriend.

In Argentina, the City of Buenos Aires was a pioneer in the installation of video surveillance cameras.  The facial recognition system has been operating in CABA since 2019 and aims to: “identify people with a warrant for arrest from Justice“, it uses live images obtained by video cameras on public roads and compares them with photos of wanted persons.

However, in 2019, various entities such as the Civil Association for Equality and Justice (ACIJ), the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) and the Vía Libre Foundation, denounced that this instrument violates the privacy and intimacy of people,  exercising discrimination.

The management of personal data also presents irregularities that have not yet been explained: there is a set of 356 records that were entered, searched and then deleted manually. Furthermore, many of the actions are not traceable because they are carried out with generic profiles.

As we have seen, the use of these technologies can be related to Michel Foucault’s Biopolitics, which refers to the set of “calculations and tactics” that intervene on a population through the management of life.

Likewise, to understand the concept we must understand that there must be certain elements that guarantee this effect.  On the one hand, “discourses of truth” by authorities are considered competent to speak of these truths.

Then, certain norms about life and health. There are intervention strategies that shape our collective existence and are directed to the population.

Finally, self-governance, which refers to the modes of subjectivation through which individuals govern themselves under certain forms of authority, in relation to discourses of truth and on behalf of their own health or the health of the population.

New technologies are inherent to the context of globalization we live in, but it will depend on the use we give them whether they end up being a problem or a solution.

For Foucault, technology consists of the implementation of calculated means in order to achieve certain ends. In this sense, a technology of government would be the implementation of means to make people behave in a certain way according to certain objectives established previously. However, the rationality that operates in this type of technology is determined by a structure in which both the achievement and the means to obtain certain ends go hand in hand with the ethical consideration of the values pursued.



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