Thousands of security cameras, preventive identity checks for minors, hot air balloons, and state-of-the-art drones. Chile has stepped up its security measures since President Piñera came back to La Moneda. Facial recognition should be the wake-up call for Chile to ask for a legal framework for Chile’s mass surveillance policy.
A woman from Quintero walked out of a late-night party last week. On the streets, she started kissing another man. A man that wasn’t her husband. Little did she know that a security camera recorded the entire thing, and the footage found its way to her husband. And he asked for a divorce.
Whether the woman got what she deserved is one thing. But how her escapade came to light is quite another. In Chile, as in so many other countries around the world, we have reached a level of “Big-brother-is-watching-you” that Orwell could only dream of. And we’re only just getting started.
Mass Surveillance: The Cornerstone of Piñera’s Security Plan
According to CNN Chile, there are more than 3,000 surveillance cameras in Santiago alone, where citizens are monitored through traditional cameras, screens, hot air balloons, and drones. The surveillance systems operate under the control of authorities such as municipalities, highway control, Carabineros, the Traffic Control Operative Unit (UOCT), and the Santiago metro, but they are also present in buildings, supermarkets, and malls.
Mass surveillance seems to have become the cornerstone of the security policies of the Piñera administration. With the introduction of Televigilancia Móvil (Mobile Tele-vigilance), which will use drones with high definition cameras and infrared capacity to monitor the Metropolitan region streets, more citizens in the capital can be monitored on a larger scale. Apart from the surveillance drones, the program includes 154 fixed cameras, “plus 90 that are on the way”; seven license plate readers, “plus 10 on the way,” and 4 monitoring centers.
Piñera announced that later in 2019 the mobile vigilance program will be launched in the Valparaíso, Biobío, Coquimbo, and La Araucanía regions and that in 2020 it will be expanding throughout the country. The president defended the measure by saying “it is our duty to do everything in our power to bring more peace and security to Chileans’ homes.”
No Laws To Control The Control
But how much peace will the new government plans really bring Chileans? Former Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz called the earlier announced, controversial change to the identity control law a “smoke screen.” He said “Piñera must worry about the victims, not just control.”
Control seems to be exactly what the new security measures from the Piñera administration is about. Chile is not the first to do it. Mass surveillance in China, especially to control the Xinjang muslim minority, has been widely feared – and criticized.
In the United States, aerial surveillance has been used on a large scale by authorities to monitor crime – or citizens in general. And for good reason: it is affordable technology that is quickly developing and in nearly all countries existing laws allow authorities to spy on their citizens. At the same time, laws that control social control are still playing catchup. The same is true in Chile.
How long will Chileans accept the loss of their freedom over security measures? As investigations on the widespread use of drones by the police in the United States have shown, “aerial surveillance can, in combination with other automated identification technologies, allow for effortless cataloging of individuals and their activities. […] This means that the government could surreptitiously watch sensitive activities and catalog individuals. Everyone entering or exiting a political meeting, union meeting, or lawyer’s office could be identified and cataloged. Or a drone could zoom in on and scan all the cars parked outside a medical facility or church and create a list of attendees in seconds with no human effort.”
Facial Recognition Asks For A Legal Framework
The moment that Chile should really start to worry about government control and invasion of privacy has arrived. Because the next step in the government’s control plans has been announced: the drones and cameras part of the security plans will have facial recognition. Government can watch every step you make – depending on technology that can be wrong (at the 2017 Champions League final in Cardiff, facial recognition technology was found to have wrongly identified more than 2,200 people as possible criminals).
Across the Atlantic in the UK, Big Brother Watch (a digital rights organization) is backing two challenges to police use of automatic facial recognization (AFR) technology there. According to The Guardian, the organization’s director Silkie Carlo, said: “Facial recognition cameras are dangerously authoritarian, hopelessly inaccurate and risk turning members of the public into walking ID cards. The prospect of facial recognition turning those CCTV cameras into identity checkpoints like China is utterly terrifying.”
The organization asks for a legal framework. One of its lawyers said, “The lack of a statutory regime or code of practice regulating this technology, the uncertainty as to when and where automated facial recognition can be used, the absence of public information and rights of review, and the use of custody images unlawfully held, all indicate that the use of automated facial recognition, and the retention of data as a result, is unlawful and must be stopped as a matter of priority.”
Don’t Fear Thugs. Fear Politicians.
Politicians should focus on laws that really protect their citizens – not laws that control them. Chileans should insist that their rights to privacy and freedom be protected and preserved, and that the government’s collection and use of surveillance data be subject to civilian oversight. Although collecting private data has already become normal for Chileans – think how often someone asks for your RUT – it is time to mark the line.
A line that can only be drawn by a legal framework. A hardliner such as José Antonio Kast already defended the security plans in the line of Josh Goebbels (“if you’ve nothing to hide you have nothing to fear”) by stating that people who do nothing wrong don’t need to fear anything. But fear is what drives these laws. Fear is what drives people into accepting these “security plans”. According to Kast, when proposing a curfew for minors, “the situation is critical and these are times when radical decisions have to be made until everything is ordered”.
The situation is critical. You should be afraid. But don’t fear the 14-year-old hooded knife-carrying thug. Fear the 60-year-old well-dressed pen-carrying politician.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.