Big Brother is watching behind COVID mask

Big Brother is watching behind COVID mask

We all agree that the #Coronavirus crisis must be stopped by all means necessary but we should be very careful that our #AI-based remedies don’t seed the next disease — a #mass #surveillance State.
“No person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law,” Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
The ability of our governments to respond to the pandemic must be extolled. Some heads of States, shedding their differences, appealed to humanity to fight unitedly against the Coronavirus.
As of now, all options are open, right from the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to biotechnology to win the battle against the Coronavirus. As the world is literally in a lockdown, Governments, right from China to the US, are allowing private AI and data analytics firms to sweep through personal data on phones for locations and so on. Facial recognition technology is also deployed to search for people with Coronavirus. It is reported that companies like Tencent and Alibaba are working with the Chinese Government to deploy these technologies and Beijing is using apps to collect travel history, time spent in infected places and details of an individual’s interactions. So, in short, they know every personal detail of an individual they want to track, with the help of AI and apps.
 
In India, too, various Corona apps are being made popular as a screening and tracking tool.
In China, once the information is collected, algorithms assign people health codes. These yellow, red and green codes notify whether one is to be quarantined or not, whether one can use the public transport or not. Most of this data collection is not by choice of the citizen. AI reports back to the Government if the individual has given inconsistent answers or simply lied. Coercive actions follow that.   The Government has superseded all privacy conventions and is freely allowing private companies to look into phones, computers, public cameras to achieve the results. The Chinese State has an extensive and often-called “Black Mirror-esque and dark” social credit system, which allows for monitoring of each action and behaviour. If the behaviour is aligned with the State, you are rewarded, otherwise you can’t even board a train.
 
Looking Westward, in England Sky News reports, “The Government is working with mobile network O2 to analyse anonymous smartphone location data to see whether people are following its social distancing guidelines.” Israel is using mobile surveillance to send users customised messages about  whether they are infected or not. Social media firms like Facebook, Google and so on, are doing their bit, too, by giving Governments our data. So no matter where you are, the Coronavirus crisis has given “Big Brother” an excuse to watch you all the time. And remember it is for “public health and your own good.” And of course we have nothing to hide.
 
The stakes are getting higher as the US-China trade wars have entered a new horizon of AI-based technology. Both nations are cognisant of the enormous power of AI-based surveillance and medical technology. No friend of the Silicon Valley, US President Donald Trump now has taken assistance from a company called BlueDot to create a mass surveillance system to monitor people for COVID-19. The US Government last year had already tried to outlaw encryption and forced Facebook to give it access to WhatsApp messages. It is only a matter of time before other Silicon Valley giants like Microsoft and so on begin their dalliance with the White House to birth the most sophisticated reconnaissance systems engineered to feed the Government your per-minute heart rate. Emergency legislations are introduced across the world to expedient data collection and give the Government “war-like situation” powers. In a statement, Kamran Khan of Bluedot told the media, “We know that governments may not be relied upon to provide information in a timely fashion. This reflects the larger disbelief in governments and democratic institutions at large by this class of technocrats.”
I don’t doubt the noble intentions of our Governments and private companies in their efforts to control COVID-19 but the AI-based systems they are creating do force us to beg the question, what happens to mass surveillance-based systems after COVID-19 goes away? Will the mass surveillance, too, go away or evolve further? Can citizens of the world be certain it won’t be misused?
 
Coupled with 5G technology, this system will be extremely powerful and its master will be the overlord of our planet. One can only think of Abraham Lincoln’s warning that, “Nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” What will happen to our leaders when they can pry into our lives on the touch of a button. This system will open up a Pandora’s box of control. People of the world must be very careful, for under the garb of remedies of COVID-19, lurks a far sinister danger. AI-based mass surveillance slithers into our lives with our approval. As fear reigns, neighbour has already turned against neighbour. People of Asian descent are becoming Hitler’s Jews. As news of racial hatred is rising, we are globally descending into chaos. We have to ensure the virus doesn’t aid another holocaust of hate and fear empowered by technology. From the gas chambers to the nuclear bomb, they  were all cutting-edge science of their time and yet they served Satanic ends. Champions of technology and science like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking along with other scientists, have already cautioned the world against AI. In fact Musk goes on to say that, “AI is more dangerous than nuclear weapons.” We need to curb indiscriminate use of AI-based technology, especially applications that loot our privacy and rights. Democracy, privacy and humanity are threatened by private technocratic tools like AI-based surveillance. The crisis is not an excuse to free them from regulation, we need to have a “pre-nuptial” agreement with these firms and technology.
 
We all agree that the Corona crisis must be stopped by all means necessary but we should be very careful that our remedies don’t seed the next disease — a mass surveillance State.
 
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