The Global Struggle Over AI Surveillance: Emerging Trends and Democratic Responses

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From cameras that identify the faces of passersby to algorithms that keep tabs on public sentiment online, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered tools are opening new frontiers in state surveillance around the world. Law enforcement, national security, criminal justice, and border management organizations in every region are relying on these technologies—which use statistical pattern recognition, machine learning, and big data analytics—to monitor citizens.

What are the governance implications of these enhanced surveillance capabilities?

This report explores the challenge of safeguarding democratic principles and processes as AI technologies enable governments to collect, process, and integrate unprecedented quantities of data about the online and offline activities of individual citizens. Three complementary essays examine the spread of AI surveillance systems, their impact, and the transnational struggle to erect guardrails that uphold democratic values.

In the lead essay, Steven Feldstein, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, assesses the global spread of AI surveillance tools and ongoing efforts at the local, national, and multilateral levels to set rules for their design, deployment, and use. It gives particular attention to the dynamics in young or fragile democracies and hybrid regimes, where checks on surveillance powers may be weakened but civil society still has space to investigate and challenge surveillance deployments.

Two case studies provide more granular depictions of how civil society can influence this norm-shaping process: In the first, Eduardo Ferreyra of Argentina’s Asociación por los Derechos Civiles discusses strategies for overcoming common obstacles to research and debate on surveillance systems. In the second, Danilo Krivokapic of Serbia’s SHARE Foundation describes how his organization drew national and global attention to the deployment of Huawei smart cameras in Belgrade.

The release of this report marks the launch of the International Forum for Democratic Studies’ “Making Tech Transparent” series, which focuses on crafting transparent and participatory processes around the use of emerging technologies in politics and governance.

Building on a sequence of cross-sectoral, cross-regional workshops, this series looks at initiatives such as smart cities, biometric surveillance tools, and algorithmic decision making systems in a global context. Contributors will address both the democracy implications of new technologies and vectors for civil society involvement in their design, deployment, and operation.

This report was edited by Beth Kerley, a program officer at the International Forum for Democratic Studies focusing on emerging technology and democracy.


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The Global Struggle Over AI Surveillance: Emerging Trends and Democratic Responses edited by Beth Kerley

Executive Summary

The Global Struggle Over AI Surveillance” by Steven Feldstein

Overcoming Obstacles to Surveillance Research: Lessons for Civil Society” by Eduardo Ferreyra

Starting the Debate on Facial Recognition: A Case Study from Belgrade” by Danilo Krivokapic

La lucha global ante la vigilancia con IA: Nuevas tendencias y respuestas democráticas editado por Beth Kerley



more on emerging technologies from the International Forum

Digital Directions,” a curated newsletter on the evolving relationships among digital technologies, information integrity, and democracy

Double-Edged Sword: China’s Sharp Power Exploitation of Emerging Technologies, a Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience series report by Samantha Hoffman

Artificial Intelligence and Democratic Norms: Meeting the Authoritarian Challenge, a Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience series report by Nicholas D. Wright

Two events on “Digital Repression: Confronting the Evolving Challenge” and “The Rise of Digital Repression: How Technology is Reshaping Power, Politics, and Resistance

A Power 3.0 blog post on “Data vs. the Disease? COVID-19 Surveillance Technologies” by Rachelle Faust

A Power 3.0 blog post on “An Intelligent Human Rights Agenda for Artificial Intelligence” by Eileen Donahoe and Megan MacDuffee Metzger

A Power 3.0 podcast episode on “Democracy and the Tech Revolution” with featured guest Marietje Schaake