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Opposition charges the government wants to set up surveillance systems to threaten critics

Crowds throng the opening of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya office in Kotte

ECONOMYNEXT – The opposition is accusing the government of collecting personal data that can be used to threaten or intimidate citizens.

Lawyer Shiral Lakthilaka, a National List nominee from the Samagi Jana Balavegaya, told reporters on Sunday that the recent collection of data done by the police accompanied by unidentified civilians is part of a “Big Data” project the Intelligence Agencies in the country have been wanting to do for several years.

Laktilaka, who was an adviser to President Maithripala Sirisena, warns that the data can be used to threaten and coerce people.

“They can use this data to silence their critics,” he claimed.

“This will be a death-blow to democracy in this country,” Lakthilaka thundered.

He said when he was in the President’s office he became aware that the Intelligence Agencies in the country “were very keen to do this project.”

EconomyNext reported that during the last government, Cabinet did study a proposal for this kind of surveillance in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks which had been proposed by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The system was to have been linked to the National Identity cards of individual citizens.

“The current administration which is full of military and intelligence people at the top will definitely do it,” Lakthilaka charges.

He raises the bogey of instances such as Surveillance Capitalism, which is a common factor in the everyday life of people who use online sources to search for goods.

Artificial Intelligence can track people’s preferences for goods and services and post advertisements for them on Social Media platforms that they use frequently.

The use of data to track the movement of people and predict crime, for instance, is in use in many countries including the United States.

China is a leader in the development of software that conducts surveillance of this type.

Part of the technology developed by China has been installed some of the projects that have been built in the Belt and Road Initiative of which Sri Lanka is also a part.

It is not certain whether any such surveillance system has been installed in any recently built Chinese projects in Sri Lanka.

Associate Professor Steven Feldstein says in countries “with unaccountable institutions and frequent human rights abuses, AI systems will most likely cause greater damage. China is a prominent example.”

Feldstein who is a Carnegie Fellow on Governance and Democracy points to Chinese equipped cities like Bonifacio Global City in the Philippines which is kitted out with state of the art intelligent surveillance cameras.

Feldstein says with face recognition software it will be possible to track individuals almost constantly.

He claims the Chinese government has used this technology to keep track of dissidents in the troubled Western Chinese Province of Xinjiang.

Opposition activist Lakthilaka also charges that the government wants to post Intelligence officers in every polling station at the upcoming Parliamentary General elections. (Colombo, June 8, 2020)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana