Technology and surveillance in Latin America: Towards human rights standards

25 Nov 2019 16:10h - 18:15h

Event report

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While setting the stage for a discussion on technology and surveillance in Latin America, Ms Maria Paz Canales (Derechos Digitales) spoke about the increasing trend of using facial recognition technology across Latin America. There is a clear need for collaboration and sharing knowledge on issues regarding this software and how to effectively address them while taking into consideration the legal regulations of each country.

Derechos Digitales is working on a web-repository that will provide access to a collection of cases and strategies for treating issues regarding the deployment and use of these technologies. The hope of the session participants included providing perspectives for those affected and that the Inter-American Commission will review the issue holistically and not on a country by country basis.

Representatives from various non-governmental organisations highlighted the gradual implementation of surveillance technology in aiding national security efforts. Mr Eduardo Ferreyra (ADC, Argentina) pointed out the lack of studies and transparency during the preparation of technology roll-outs. He added that an ID system was introduced with little scrutiny and that private companies have access to collected biometric data.

Similarly, in Paraguay and Ecuador, individuals are not aware of the actual use of data collected for security reasons, nor of the impact it has on human rights. The lack of disclosure by the states and the potential circumvention of a democratic process raises flags as it is reminiscent of actions taken by dictators. So the possible unjustified violation of human rights could lead to distrust of law enforcement and scepticism about state actions. This is particularly the case in Ecuador where there is no legislation regarding the protection of personal data. Additionally, private companies are involved in handling collected data.

In Brazil, there were originally cameras with no facial recognition systems, but leading up to the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics, legislation was passed allowing greater surveillance of citizens. Ms Joana Varon (Coding Rights) raised numerous cases of erroneous conclusions and mistakes in the use of facial recognition to point out that there has to be cautious reliance regarding this technology so that citizens are not abused. A reference was made to the creative manipulation of personal appearance using paint and other low-tech solutions, as well as lasers, by Hong Kong protesters as ways of making identification more difficult for cameras and facial recognition software.

In all of these cases, a fight against the casual implementation of surveillance technology was displayed through increasing awareness among the general public of the potential impacts. Additionally, there are several cases before the courts which require stronger legislation for protecting citizens. Greater transparency is called for to ensure that people are aware of the implications that may arise from the use of this technology and that there are mechanisms in place to prevent abuse by state actors.

By Andre Edwards