[SUNDAY FEATURE] Facial recognition technology is facing a huge backlash in the U.S. but some of the world’s biggest Tech companies are trying to sell it in the Gulf

BuzzFeed News/ Getty Images

Face recognition has been banned in San Francisco and linked by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to a rise in global fascism. But it’s being marketed in Dubai, which has spied on hundreds of dissidents, by American and Chinese tech giants

By Megha Rajagopalan | BuzzFeed 

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — As a backlash against facial recognition technology grows in the US, a host of Chinese and American firms are competing to supply Dubai’s police force with biometric surveillance and artificial intelligence products.

This month San Francisco banned police from using facial recognition altogether, and other bills in the US aim to do the same. Amazon faced pressure last week from activist shareholders over sales of its Rekognition system to US government authorities. And Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressed concern that face recognition could be used as a form of social control.

But even as the technology comes under more scrutiny in the United States, tech giants such as IBM, and China’s Hikvision and Huawei, are marketing biometric surveillance systems in the UAE, where citizens have fewer options to push back. The UAE has used cellphone hacking software to spy on hundreds of dissidents, journalists, and suspected criminals, and has invested heavily in surveillance technology, according to human rights groups and international media reports.

“It is absolutely terrifying,” said Sarah Aoun, a digital rights technologist who works with human rights activists, including in the Middle East, on privacy and security. “In a place like Dubai, where there is not much freedom of expression and people are being jailed for what they say, when you introduce artificial intelligence, it’s used by systems of power to reinforce their control over the population. They are weaponizing this technology.”


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