Antisocial Behavioral Patrol Robots Arouse ‘Dystopian’ Surveillance State Fears

Patrol robots that issue warnings to people with “unwanted social behavior” are being tested in Singapore, raising concerns that they could lead to a state of “surveillance.”

The move added to an arsenal of surveillance technology in the tightly controlled city-state, fueling privacy concerns.

From a slew of CCTV cameras to testing streetlights equipped with facial recognition technology, Singapore’s “safest country” is experiencing an explosion of tools to track its people.

In September, two robots were initially tested to prevent people from flouting COVID-19 rules.

Officials have long championed the vision of an ultra-efficient, tech-driven ‘smart nation’, but activists say privacy is sacrificed and people have little control over what happens to their data .

“Xavier” patrolled shopping and residential areas during the September trial

Singapore has been criticized for restricting civil liberties and people are used to tight controls, but there is still growing unease over intrusive technology.

The government’s latest surveillance devices are robots on wheels, with seven cameras.

They warn people against anti-social behavior. This includes smoking in no-go areas and improper parking of bicycles.

During a recent patrol, one of the “Xavier” robots made its way through a housing estate and stopped in front of a group of elderly residents watching a chess match. “Please keep a distance of one meter, please stick to five people per group,” yelled a robotic voice, as a camera above the machine stared at them, reports The Guardian.

Singapore Robot Dystopian Surveillance CCTV
The robot issued anti-COVID warnings to elderly residents

“It reminds me of Robocop,” said Frannie Teo, a 34-year-old research assistant, who was walking through the mall. “It makes me think of a dystopian world of robots … I’m a little hesitant about this kind of concept,” she added.

Digital rights activist Lee Yi Ting said the devices were the latest way Singaporeans were monitored. “All of this contributes to the feeling that people (…) need to watch what they say and do in Singapore much more than they would in other countries,” she said. at Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The government defended its use of robots, saying they were not used to identify or take action against violators during the technology trial, and that they were needed to deal with a labor shortage. work as the population ages.

Singapore CCTV robot dystopian surveillance
“Xavier” has been compared to Robocop by researchers

The workforce is actually shrinking, ”said Ong Ka Hing, from the government agency that developed the Xavier robots, adding that they could help reduce the number of officers needed for foot patrols.

The island of about 5.5 million people has 90,000 police cameras, a number expected to double by 2030, and facial recognition technology – which helps authorities spot faces in a crowd – can be installed on streetlights across the city.

There was a rare public backlash this year when authorities admitted that coronavirus contract tracing data collected by an official system had been viewed by police. The government then passed a law to limit its use.

“There is no privacy constraint on what the government can or cannot do,” said Indulekshmi Rajeswari, a Singapore privacy attorney who is now based. in Germany.

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