Skip to main content

John Whitehead's Commentary

Digital Authoritarianism: AI Surveillance Signals the Death of Privacy [SHORT]

John Whitehead

Nothing is private.

We teeter on the cusp of a cultural, technological and societal revolution the likes of which have never been seen before.

While the political Left and Right continue to make abortion the face of the debate over the right to privacy in America, the government and its corporate partners, aided by rapidly advancing technology, are reshaping the world into one in which there is no privacy at all.

Nothing that was once private is protected.

We have not even begun to register the fallout from the tsunami bearing down upon us in the form of AI (artificial intelligence) surveillance, and yet it is already re-orienting our world into one in which freedom is almost unrecognizable.

AI surveillance harnesses the power of artificial intelligence and widespread surveillance technology to do what the police state lacks the manpower and resources to do efficiently or effectively: be everywhere, watch everyone and everything, monitor, identify, catalogue, cross-check, cross-reference, and collude.

Everything that was once private is now up for grabs to the right buyer.

Governments and corporations alike have heedlessly adopted AI surveillance technologies without any care or concern for their long-term impact on the rights of the citizenry.

As a special report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace warns, “A growing number of states are deploying advanced AI surveillance tools to monitor, track, and surveil citizens to accomplish a range of policy objectives—some lawful, others that violate human rights, and many of which fall into a murky middle ground.”

Indeed, with every new AI surveillance technology that is adopted and deployed without any regard for privacy, Fourth Amendment rights and due process, the rights of the citizenry are being marginalized, undermined and eviscerated.

Cue the rise of digital authoritarianism.

Digital authoritarianism, as the Center for Strategic and International Studies cautions, involves the use of information technology to surveil, repress, and manipulate the populace, endangering human rights and civil liberties, and co-opting and corrupting the foundational principles of democratic and open societies, “including freedom of movement, the right to speak freely and express political dissent, and the right to personal privacy, online and off.”

The seeds of digital authoritarianism were planted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, with the passage of the USA Patriot Act, which justified broader domestic surveillance.

In the decades following 9/11, a massive security-industrial complex arose that was fixated on militarization, surveillance, and repression.

Surveillance is the key.

We’re being watched everywhere we go. Speed cameras. Red light cameras. Police body cameras. Cameras on public transportation. Cameras in stores. Cameras on public utility poles. Cameras in cars. Cameras in hospitals and schools. Cameras in airports.

We’re being recorded at least 50 times a day.

It’s estimated that there are upwards of 85 million surveillance cameras in the U.S. alone, second only to China.

On any given day, the average American going about his daily business is monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways by both government and corporate eyes and ears.

Beware of what you say, what you read, what you write, where you go, and with whom you communicate, because it will all be recorded, stored and used against you eventually, at a time and place of the government’s choosing.

Yet it’s not just what we say, where we go and what we buy that is being tracked.

We’re being surveilled right down to our genes, thanks to a potent combination of hardware, software and data collection that scans our biometrics—our faces, irises, voices, genetics, microbiomes, scent, gait, heartbeat, breathing, behaviors—runs them through computer programs that can break the data down into unique “identifiers,” and then offers them up to the government and its corporate allies for their respective uses.

For instance, Emotion AI, an emerging technology that is gaining in popularity, uses facial recognition technology “to analyze expressions based on a person’s faceprint to detect their internal emotions or feelings, motivations and attitudes.”

This is the slippery slope that leads to the thought police.

The technology is already being used “by border guards to detect threats at border checkpoints, as an aid for detection and diagnosis of patients for mood disorders, to monitor classrooms for boredom or disruption, and to monitor human behavior during video calls.”

“From cameras that identify the faces of passersby to algorithms that keep tabs on public sentiment online, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered tools are opening new frontiers in state surveillance around the world.” So begins the Carnegie Endowment’s report on AI surveillance note. “Law enforcement, national security, criminal justice, and border management organizations in every region are relying on these technologies—which use statistical pattern recognition, machine learning, and big data analytics—to monitor citizens.”

In the hands of tyrants and benevolent dictators alike, AI surveillance is the ultimate means of repression and control, especially through the use of smart city/safe city platforms, facial recognition systems, and predictive policing. These technologies are also being used by violent extremist groups, as well as sex, child, drug, and arms traffickers for their own nefarious purposes.

Both China and the United States have led the way in supplying the rest of the world with AI surveillance, sometimes at a subsidized rate.

This is how totalitarianism conquers the world.

The danger posed by the AI surveillance state applies equally to all of us: lawbreaker and law-abider alike.

When the government sees all and knows all and has an abundance of laws to render even the most seemingly upstanding citizen a criminal and lawbreaker, then the old adage that you’ve got nothing to worry about if you’ve got nothing to hide no longer applies.

As Orwell wrote in 1984, “You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

In an age of too many laws, too many prisons, too many government spies, and too many corporations eager to make a fast buck at the expense of the American taxpayer, we are all guilty of some transgression or other.

No one is spared.

Tread cautiously: as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, 1984 has become an operation manual for the omnipresent, modern-day AI surveillance state.

WC: 1054

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His most recent books are the best-selling Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the award-winning A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, and a debut dystopian fiction novel, The Erik Blair Diaries. Whitehead can be contacted at staff@rutherford.org. Nisha Whitehead is the Executive Director of The Rutherford Institute. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission

John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

 

Donate

Copyright 2022 © The Rutherford Institute • Post Office Box 7482 • Charlottesville, VA 22906-7482 (434) 978-3888
The Rutherford Institute is a registered 501(c)(3) organization. All donations are fully deductible as a charitable contribution.