WALLS HAVE EARS

Written by Lim Jin Jie

Or rather, lamp-posts have eyes.

GovTech, the public authority responsible for digital transformation in Singapore, has plans to install surveillance cameras on lampposts around Singapore to help authorities pick out and recognise faces in crowds. This initiative is still at its nascence, with GovTech seeking interested companies to provide the necessary technological infrastructure for the network. This is part of the “Lamppost-as-a-Platform” pilot project, which supports Singapore’s push to be a Smart Nation. While GovTech did not mention the exact number of lamp posts that will be used in the pilot, they aim to bring all 110,000 lampposts in Singapore into the picture.

Will we still have privacy?

This reminds us of China’s vast network of surveillance cameras, set with the initial purpose to reduce crime and terrorism, but slowly evolving to pervade the lives of every single citizen. To incentivise accepted behaviour in China, every citizen has a credit rating where “good” people are rewarded, and “bad” people punished. Yet, this seems to intrude upon the privacy of the citizens – imagine being judged from the moment you step out of your home! Everything you do is under scrutiny, to the extent that any minor mistake can be picked up by artificial intelligence.

GovTech mentioned that it is important to “protect personal data and preserve privacy” when implementing the project, while PM Lee said that the project is aimed at “improving people’s lives”, not in a way “which is overbearing, which is intrusive, which is unethical”. Others, like Adam Schwartz, senior staff attorney of Electronic Frontier Foundation, were definitely concerned that such technology could be used to curb free speech and dissenting views. From the IMDA’s Changes To Films Acts, to the proposed regulations for Deliberate Online Falsehoods, and now spy lamp posts, this is really starting to look like a season of Black Mirror.

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