Biometrics developers among tech companies criticized for business in risky regions
For surveillance technology, the Middle East and North Africa region is a veritable wild west that is badly in need of regulatory oversight, says a new report from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC).
According to Middle East Eye, the report raises alarms about companies in Europe and Israel selling surveillance tools such as facial recognition scans, unmanned drones and biometric ID systems, to governments in the Middle East and North Africa, often for use on migrating populations. It calls for a moratorium on the trade of certain technologies by twenty-four companies in the military, security, and high-tech sector, including the biometrics providers IrisGuard and Thales. It also criticizes the companies for failing to offer clear answers on what biometric products they sell to which nations.
The above companies were among the minority in responding to BHRRC’s inquiries, while others, including Oosto, Idemia, Cisco and Dahua did not, the group says.
With few regulations, and combined with the increased use of Artificial Intelligence-based technologies globally, the risk of surveillance tools being used for human rights abuses is high — and not always in the places you would expect.
“We have seen how governments have been increasingly using surveillance tech exported from the EU or Israel and how these technologies basically have been used to target human rights activists, journalists from the region,” Dina Samaro, the author of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre report, told Middle East Eye. “But also when it comes to this trend, it hasn’t been limited to targeting activists. It has been used in the context of border control and immigration.”
The BHRRC report points out that migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the Middle East North Africa region remain at high risk of serious human rights abuses, ranging from drone monitoring and the mass collection of biometric data in refugee camps, to the use of facial recognition for racial profiling of vulnerable communities. AI systems such as smart city platforms and smart policing do little to mitigate the risk.
Samaro pointed to pending, mandatory human rights regulations in the EU that could bring the issues raised in the BHRRC report even further into the foreground.
“This represents an opportunity,” he said, “for us in the region to continue pushing for regulation.”
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