published: 29 June 2021
This is a guest post by Harmit Kambo, Campaigns Director, Privacy International
Imagine going to a peaceful protest and having to show your ID to the police before you can join it. Or having to fill out a form about why you are attending that particular protest. Sounds absurd, right? Surely we should all be free to protest, without the police knowing who we are?
But high tech surveillance of protests is real, and it enables the police to identify, monitor and track protestors, indiscriminately and at scale.
For example, your face is increasingly becoming your ID card with the rapid development of facial recognition technology and its deployment at protests. But even if you cover your face, the way you walk can even reveal your identify through using gait recognition technology. As well as surveilling your face and body, the police can also surveil through your phone.
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The police can access the data on your smartphone through mobile phone extraction and hacking, or intercept your messages by tricking it into connecting with a fake mobile phone mast. And they can even data mine social media posts about an upcoming protest to identify who will be attending. Combined with body worn video cameras, and drones fitted with cameras hovering in the sky above, the police now have access to awe-inspiring surveillance capabilities.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this is that you won’t know whether any, some or all of these technologies are being deployed when you attend a protest.