As global anxiety grows about the profound impact of the COVID-19 crisis, it may seem that no stone should be left unturned to resolve it. But governments’ use of technology presents clear risks of misuse and abuse. As the crisis unfolds, the methods used by states to tackle it will demand careful public scrutiny, rooted on legitimate expectations of enhanced transparency.
As more surveillance technologies are being used in this fight, a broader conversation has begun on the need to balance the demands of public health with the preservation of privacy and human rights.
Disarmament and arms control have not featured prominently, if at all, in mandate letters to Canada’s foreign ministers in many years. But at the end of 2019, Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne was given a new mandate to “advance international efforts to ban the development and use of fully autonomous weapons systems.”
Police forces were not forthcoming about their use of Clearview AI and facial-recognition technology in general, until a February report revealed that Canada was the largest market for Clearview AI technology outside the United States. The technology seems to have spread quietly, sometimes without the knowledge of those in charge.
The latest Humanitarian Disarmament Forum was held October 19 and 20 in New York City. In attendance were civil-society groups, such as Project Ploughshares, which work on arms control and disarmament concerns that fall under the umbrella of “humanitarian disarmament.” According to the Harvard Law School Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative, humanitarian disarmament “seeks to prevent and remediate the human and environmental harm inflicted by arms through the establishment and implementation of norms.”
In January of this year, armed drones owned by Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group, killed several Yemeni government officials. This was the first time, as far as we know, that a nonstate group had successfully deployed a drone to carry out a precision-targeted operation. In September, the Houthis, with alleged support from Iran, were suspected in the attack on the world’s largest oil-processing facility in Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this year, Amnesty International (AI) released a report, The Hidden US War in Somalia: Civilian Casualties from Air Strikes in Lower Shabelle. According to this report, which explored five incidents, at least 14 civilians had been killed by airstrikes from both manned aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones).
As prices drop, more surveillance and analysis technologies, developed for military use in active war zones, will become available in domestic situations. At the moment, most use is in the United States. But that could change—soon.
In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Glenn S. Gerstell, the general counsel for the United States National Security Agency, explains why the United States cannot afford to lose the digital revolution. He lays out the ways in which technology will transform national security threats and predicts a bleak future of constant cyberwarfare and new weapons. Gerstell rightly notes …
The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research Innovations Dialogue held on August 19 at the UN Office in Geneva sought to address the implications of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, blockchain, and the Internet of Things on arms control and disarmament.