Cathryn Grothe, a research analyst at Freedom House, a US government-backed human rights nonprofit, said she has seen change in Iran in recent years. , from depending on informants and actual patrols to automated forms of digital surveillance to target. critic.
Like Alimardani, she has received reports from people using online platforms to organize in Iran who suspect that they were somehow recognized by the authorities and subsequently targeted by foreign countries. line. The Iranian government has been monitoring social media to identify opponents of the regime for years, Grothe said, but if the government’s claims about the use of facial recognition are true, this is the first case. she knows the government uses this technology to enforce gender-related dress laws.
Facial recognition has become a desired tool by authoritarian regimes around the world as a way to suppress dissent, says Grothe, although many lack the necessary technical infrastructure. “Iran is a case where they have both government will and physical capacity,” she said.
Many arms of the Iranian government have access to facial recognition technology. Iranian traffic officials started using it in 2020 to issue fines and send warning women by SMS about wearing a headscarf while in the car. Mousa Ghazanfarabadi, head of parliament’s legal and judicial committee, last year spoke in favor of “exclusion from social services and fines” for hijab violations. “The use of face cameras can systematically accomplish this task and reduce the police presence, so there will be no more clashes between police and citizens,” he said. . told Iranian news agency Enghelabe Eslami.
Some of the facial recognition technology being used in Iran today comes from the Chinese camera and artificial intelligence company Tiandy. Its trading in Iran has been featured in a December 2021 report from IPvMa company that tracks the surveillance and security industry.
Report author Charles Rollet said Tiandy is one of the largest security camera manufacturers in the world, but its sales are mostly in China, and the company appears to have jumped at the opportunity to expand into Iran. IPVM found that the website Tiandy Iran had listed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, police and a government prison labor organization as clients—agencies that Rollet described as “kind of places raised a red flag from a sanctions or human rights perspective”.
In December, the US Department of Commerce placed sanctions on Tiandy, citing its role in the suppression of Uighur Muslims in China and the supply of US-origin technology to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The company previously used Intel components, but the American chip maker told NBC last month that it stopped working with the Chinese company. Tiandy did not respond to a request for comment.
Exports from China have contributed to the recent rapid spread of surveillance technology. When Steven Feldstein, a former US State Department surveillance expert, surveyed 179 countries between 2012 and 2020, he found that 77 countries are currently using some form of AI-driven surveillance. Facial recognition is used in 61 countries, more than any other form of digital surveillance technology, he said.
In my recent book The Age of Digital Repression, Feldstein argues that authoritarian states have largely managed to counter the momentum of protest movements thanks to the internet. “They have adapted and are using new tools to consolidate their power,” Feldstein writes.
Despite the deployment of mass surveillance and suppression technology, over the past month whole China and Iran have seen some of the largest protests both countries have seen in decades.
After a person dies, the custom of Shia Muslims is called chehelom, a day to remember the deceased 40 days after their death. That tradition is now fueling protests in Iran, as the tribute to each of the more than 500 people killed since Masha Amini’s death sparked a new wave of outcry.
One chehelom cycle after the killing of hundreds by government forces led to the Iranian people’s overthrow of the king in 1979. Alimardani of Oxford looks forward to the current cycle of protests — which she considers the largest and most diverse since the revolution. revolution — will continue, with young people and women at the forefront.