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UK PM Sunak Endorses Facial Recognition, Implicitly Backs Mass Bank Surveillance

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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has thrown what political weight he has behind the use of the hotly debated live facial recognition technology.

The direct endorsement of the controversial tech has come in a speech that’s part of his election campaign; he uses this type of tech with talking points such as fighting crime more efficiently.

But Sunak didn’t stop there, also asking the Policy Exchange UK conference audience to “imagine a welfare system where new technologies allow us to crack down on the fraudsters exploiting the hard-working taxpayers who fund it” – which is seen as an implicit endorsement of mass government surveillance of people’s bank accounts.

But despite Sunak’s attempt to talk up these schemes as beneficial to society, both bank account surveillance and live facial recognition are dismissed by privacy advocates like Big Brother Watch as dystopian threats to people’s civil rights and privacy.

The trade-off between potentially making catching criminals and fraudsters easier, and the entire population having their financial and physical privacy undermined is unacceptable to this non-profit, which calls the policies of bank spying and facial recognition surveillance expansion, with dangerous implications.

And, Big Brother Watch offered its “translation” of Sunak’s statements:

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“Imagine this: The Government spying on ALL of our bank accounts on the premise of detecting welfare fraud & error…

Police taking your face prints as you go about your day on your high street

Imagine, a nation of suspects.”

In a bid to avoid this, a petition has been launched to prevent the government from gaining the new powers around bank account surveillance, calling them, on the one hand, redundant – as the government is already equipped to deal with fraud and misuse of public money.

But on the other hand, everyone’s privacy and other rights would be jeopardized, and subject to the government’s possibly arbitrary – since secret – criteria that banks would have to follow.

In the meantime, Sunak is putting taxpayer money where his AI-surveillance-supporting mouth is, with reports saying that the equivalent of $69.5 million was recently set aside to allow the police to “accelerate” facial recognition deployment. And that is only one of the initiatives in this space.

Sunak chose to “sit on two AI chairs” – which comes down to, “AI is good if used by the government, and also good as an excuse to ramp up censorship under the guise of fighting online harms.”

Preventing government abuse through surveillance, appropriate regulation, and transparency, do not seem to be top of mind when the current British PM talks about AI, though.

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