A growing number of nations use AI to track their citizens. A new report sheds light on who’s watching and how.

What’s new: Published by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “The Global Expansion of AI Surveillance” details which countries are buying surveillance gear, which companies are supplying it, and what technologies are most in-demand.

What the report says: Of 176 countries surveyed, at least 75 use some combination of face recognition, location tracking, and predictive policing.

  • This list of users spans advanced democracies, including the U.S., Germany, and the UK, to absolute dictatorships. Countries with the largest defense budgets are most likely to invest in AI-driven surveillance.
  • The U.S. and China are the top producers of equipment. Huawei is the most prolific, selling to governments in 50 countries. IBM is the biggest U.S. dealer, providing surveillance systems to 11 countries.
  • The report simply lists nations, suppliers, and applications. It doesn’t evaluate whether particular users or uses violate international human-rights agreements.

Methodology: The authors drew their information from news reports. They accepted information as reported by established sources like The New York Times and Economist. They gathered corroborating accounts before relying on less rigorous sources like blogs.

Why it matters: Surveillance networks are deeply rooted even in bastions of liberal democracy like London. They can support public safety, as in New South Wales, Australia, where smartcams spot drivers using a phone behind the wheel. But they also promote social biases and erode trust in authority and, at their worst, they’re powerful tools for repression. Baltimore’s secret drone-policing fiasco shows how an all-seeing eye can lead well-intentioned authorities in the direction of invasive dystopia.

We’re thinking: Tracking which governments use which technology is important because it empowers citizens to react. The AI community, in particular, should take a proactive stance in promoting wise use of these technologies.


Subscribe to The Batch

Stay updated with weekly AI News and Insights delivered to your inbox