South Africa’s private surveillance machine is fueling a digital apartheid

Peerman says, “WooCam’s technology is honored for its purpose of crime prevention and does not have the capability or purpose of mass surveillance. “The concerns of the so-called ‘activists’ are propaganda that we deliberately believe to be corrupt, defamatory and without any basis for truth.”

2 people on their phone in Vilakazi street.

Madeleine Kronje

And despite a temporary drop in crime during the epidemic, it has exploded once again. Many of the companies we’ve interviewed argue that this makes more investment in surveillance technology. “Crime-monitoring infrastructure is the key to preventing, preventing and understanding crime that currently promotes investment and economic growth so is important for job creation and poverty eradication,” says Pierman.

“We found that surveillance technologies that were properly established and had analytics as part of active solutions rather than reactive ones had a significant impact on criminal activity,” adds Jan Erasmus, NEC XON’s Business Lead for Surveillance and Analytics. .

Erasmus says security companies are now working to increase their ability to identify faces to identify suspected criminals. Technology relies on facial databases of wanted individuals to compare faces obtained from surveillance footage. A security provider, Bidvest Protea Coin, is collaborating with NEC XON to implement the system using 48,000 mugshots of suspects wanted for anything from rhino and abalone hunting to ATM bombings and base station battery theft. Both companies hope to share the system with the rest of the security industry, as well as with banks and government players.

But cases have already been reported in which facial recognition has been used on facial databases of individuals with no criminal background. In 2016, when economically disadvantaged black students in universities across the country protested against high tuition fees, NEC XON collected protesting faces from photos and videos circulating on WhatsApp and social media; He then compares them with the university database of student ID photos. Erasmus says its purpose was not to deter protesters but to determine if they were students (most were not, he says) and to prevent damage to university property, which is estimated to be a total of 786 million rand ($ 52 million) nationally. .

But five years later, when the protests broke out again, the students said they felt they were being criminalized. Police arrived with riot gear, tear gas and rubber bullets and filmed the students openly for the so-called “evidence” collection, says Natyambo Volsaka, a 19-year-old law student and Witwatersrand University activist. .

“We’re trying to make sure everyone gets an education,” he says, “but the police treat us like animals.” Erasmus says NEC XON did not assist in police surveillance during the 2021 protests.

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