TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN / ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Authoritarian countries use digital technologies like facial recognition tools to suppress and monitor dissidents and control language.
Japan, the US and Europe must prevent their technologies from multiplying and being used for human rights abuses. The United States, along with Australia, Denmark and Norway, announced an initiative to create an international framework to manage the export of surveillance technology.
This multilateral export control system, which aims to prevent human rights violations, will be the first of its kind. The UK, France, the Netherlands and Canada have also expressed their support for the initiative.
The regulations target technologies such as artificial intelligence facial recognition tools, surveillance cameras and spyware that extract location information and email content from smartphones.
When used correctly, advanced technologies have the ability to enrich people’s knowledge, facilitate interaction, and advance a free and open society. However, depending on how such technologies are used, they can also become tools for a government to identify and prosecute oppositional forces, as well as censor and stifle the opinions of people with different perspectives.
China is said to use surveillance technology to suppress Uyghur minorities in the Uyghur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang. The US government has imposed human rights-related sanctions on companies, including a Hong Kong-based Chinese company accused by Washington of providing Uyghur identification technology to the Chinese government. An investment ban was imposed on the company.
There must not be a chain of events in which cutting-edge technologies developed in Japan, the USA and Europe are picked up by China and Chinese surveillance instruments are extended to other authoritarian countries.
As part of the proposed US-led framework, a code of conduct will be developed that will set standards for exports and other matters, and participating countries will establish domestic control systems based on the code. The code of conduct is non-binding. This decision was apparently made out of consideration that different countries have different legal systems for export controls.
At this time, Japan has not indicated its intention to participate in or endorse the framework. One reason for this is the lack of national legal regulations.
It is also difficult to examine in each individual case how advanced technologies are being used in export destinations. Japan should have a close exchange of views with the United States and accelerate its specific deliberations on which technologies should be targeted and how the export of such technologies should be regulated.
There is a thought-provoking case in Israel. The country took action after receiving heavy criticism of spyware developed by an Israeli company that was used to monitor politicians and journalists in export destinations.
Israel said it will require the government of any country that buys sensitive Israeli technology that they undertake to use the products only to prevent terrorist attacks and serious crimes, as a requirement for export permits.
For technologically advanced countries, cutting-edge technology is the lifeblood of their economies, but they cannot just export it and leave it at that. Only when democratic countries lead by example can they increase the pressure on authoritarian countries.
- The Yomiuri Shimbun is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media organizations.