Singapore has tested patrol robots that warn on people engaging in “undesirable social behaviour”, adding to an arsenal of surveillance technology in a tightly controlled city-state that is fueling privacy concerns.
From testing a large number of CCTV cameras to lampposts equipped with facial recognition technology, Singapore is seeing an explosion of devices to track its residents.
Officials have long pushed for a vision of a hyper-efficient, tech-driven “smart nation,” but activists say privacy is being sacrificed and people have little control over how their data is accessed. what happens.
Singapore is often criticized for its curbs on civil liberties and people are accustomed to tighter controls, but there is still growing unease over the intrusive technology.
The government’s latest surveillance equipment are robots on wheels with seven cameras, which issue warnings to the public and detect “undesirable social behaviour”.
This includes smoking in prohibited areas, parking bicycles improperly and violating coronavirus social-distancing rules.
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 meter distance, please keep five persons per group,” a robotic voice sounded, as a camera on top of the machine glanced at them.
During a three-week trial in September, two robots were deployed to patrol housing estates and a shopping center.
“It reminds me of RoboCop,” said research assistant Frannie Teo, 34, who was walking through the mall.
It brings to mind the “dystopian world of robots… I’m a little hesitant about that kind of concept”, she said.
Digital rights activist Lee Yi Ting said the device was the latest way Singaporeans were being viewed.
“It all contributes to people’s understanding … what they say and do in Singapore needs to be seen that they are far more than in other countries,” he told AFP.
But the government defended the use of robots, saying they were not being used to identify or act against criminals while the technology is being tested, and that there is a need to address a labor crisis as the population ages. was needed.
“The workforce is really shrinking,” said Ong Ka Hing, 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, that number will double by 2030, and facial recognition technology – which helps officers pick out faces in a crowd – could be installed at lampposts across the city.
There was a rare public backlash this year when officials admitted that coronavirus contract-tracing data collected by an official system was accessed by police. The government later passed legislation to limit its use.
But critics say city-state laws generally place some limits on government surveillance, and Singaporeans have little control over what happens to the data collected.
“There is no lack of privacy laws on what the government can or cannot do,” said Indulakshmi Rajeshwari, a Singapore-based privacy lawyer.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)