Is Surveillance Ethical?

By Anna Plank
Trending Editor

(Photo courtesy of Biometric Update)

As the topic of ethical behavior becomes prominent in current society, it is necessary to determine all the different aspects of a business that ethics should be considered in. For example, the recent Johnson and Johnson opioid crisis focuses on the manufacturing and recognizing the second-hand effects that a product can create. Other companies, such as those associated with typical means of energy (gas, electric, etc.) are criticized for their lack of sustainability and not taking responsibility for their global footprint. Additionally, some companies are poorly regarded due to decisions made by chief suite executives or for nonenforced codes of conducts.

With the innovation of current society, a new ethical dilemma has emerged: digital ethics. Since the world has not previously dealt with the digitalization of the workplace, many companies are discovering what that will look like for the future. However, as companies begin to expand their business models to match the expansion of technology, the integrity of their businesses are at stake. For example, what are the ethics involved when monitoring the actions and preferences of users to sell to third party companies? Additionally, many of these companies are liable to breaches in data, like Facebook.

This brings to light a core essential issue: Is it ethical for companies to surveil civilians? Megvii is an artificial intelligence company in China that specializes in facial-recognition and is valued at more than one billion dollars. The company watches and monitors the faces of many civilians within China. Most prominently, the company’s services are used at public housing projects in Beijing through allowing only residents and certain delivery staff to enter the housing buildings. Not only is their software used to secure buildings, but it also is used for government surveillance projects and face authentication for banks and smartphones. Additionally, the facial recognition software is used to find persons of interest in China. Police in China have access to wearable glasses style devices that allow them to scan the face of whoever they look at.

With that being said, is it ethical for Megvii to be able to monitor people through their cameras and facial recognition? Jeffrey Ding, an expert in Chinese AI development at Oxford, says, “Ethical obligations from Chinese companies come with a little bit less weight.” This refers to the fact that while the Chinese economy is “free,” the government can ultimately control any rules or regulations, especially if it is in the favor of the government. As artificial intelligence continues to expand, it is important for not just China, but the world to consider the codes of conduct that must be created to address the behaviors that are enabled through the use of technology.


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