The UAE is a leading economy of the Middle East that spends millions of dollars on cutting edge surveillance technologies. It is also a country known for its strong repressive policies, targeting activists like Ahmed Mansoor – now detained in a secret prison for his opinions on UAE’s ruling regime.
It was just a matter of time before the UAE regime wanted facial recognition systems.
An extensive report published by Buzzfeed revealed that the UAE’s police and intelligence agencies are buying biometric surveillance systems from the American tech giant IBM as well as Chinese Huawei and Hikvision.
Signing this multimillion-dollar deal with the notoriously rich Persian Gulf regime might be good news for the tech giants. But it’s bad news for the people in UAE, living under an oppressive regime known for the abuses on workers and immigrants, the fight against freedom of expression, and a general lack of respect for human rights.
Face recognition is a controversial matter in the U.S.
San Francisco became the first city to ban the government and its law enforcement agencies from using face recognition despite objections from the local authorities. According to researchers and experts, the technology is prone to bias and it would unprecedentedly expand the surveillance powers.
In the UAE, the regime has “launched a sustained assault on freedom of expression and association since 2011,” reports Human Rights Watch. “UAE residents who have spoken about human rights issues are at serious risk of arbitrary detention, imprisonment, and torture. Many are serving long prison terms or have left the country under pressure.”
IBM commented in a statement to BuzzFeed that the company has “robust processes in place to ensure potential client engagements are consistent with our values, as well as US and local laws”. But local laws in the UAE allow for brutality and repression.
In the following statement, IBM claimed that its PowerAI Vision doesn’t “recognize individual faces,” it only identifies “objects”, however, its own website talks about how PowerAI Vision can be used for face recognition and even sentiment analysis.
Despite its contradictory statements IBM – one of the global leaders in AI development – prioritizes business over ethics, and sells cutting edge technology to questionable clients.