Chinese facial recognition technology is infamous globally. The technology is actively used in the ongoing oppression and genocide of the Uyghur people in western China in addition to broadly keeping the population in line. While it was previously the case that the technology had been confined to the one country, it seems like that may be shifting.
Before getting too deep into the matter at hand, it’s important to establish why Myanmar even wants this kind of security system.
In February of 2021, the military overthrew the democratically elected government in the early hours of the morning. While tragic, this is historically precedented, and the Myanmar government’s democracy was always relatively precarious.
Immediately following the coup, there was violence, both from the new military junta towards the civilian population, and civilian protests against the government. While the situation became more stable, no government could survive a significant popular uprising.
In an attempt to prevent revolutionary action from the civilian population, the junta has decided to take notes from China.
Mass surveillance and preemptive imprisonment seem to be better solutions to a serious uprising than letting things temporarily spiral out of control to be squashed with a blast of incredible violence (as in Tiananmen Square) with the possibility of failure and civil war (as in Syria.)
This system is battle tested and hardened, and the new government in Myanmar has decided to take as few chances as possible on an alternative solution to their shared “problem.”
While we’ve talked about the overarching ideological concerns, we haven’t got into the nitty gritty of the technology itself.
It’s contingent on two halves; the hardware, and the software.
From a hardware perspective, it’s really nothing revolutionary. Essentially, it consists of a large blanket of CCTV cameras, much more expansive than anything that exists in any western country, but not contingent on some special cameras.
The software is where the real magic happens. Chinese engineers have developed a complex set of interlocking algorithms that identify faces and match them to citizens. Using this, they can track the whereabouts of every citizen, everywhere, constantly.
They can see who they’re with and where they go. They can track things like gait, gait changes, and emotional characteristics likely to be associated with that gait.
This gives the government a shocking amount of information about each individual citizen. If a person is singled out and associated with counter-regime activities or beliefs, the state automatically has access to their entire social circle and hiding spots.
In short, it makes revolution almost unthinkable.
It may go without saying that this software should never be allowed to operate. There are no contexts where such an extraordinary oppressive stifling of personal privacy and freedoms is warranted.
We believe strongly that individuals should control what information those around them have access to, whether that be their friends, the government, or even social media companies themselves.
That’s why we’ve committed ourselves to wresting power away from the massive tech giants who take advantage of their position, and put it directly into the hands of our users in the form of this mass deletion tool.