Politics doesn't determine whether a government uses advanced AI surveillance — defense spending does

A facial recognition scanner at Houston International Airport. (US Customs and Border Protection/Flickr)

Liberal democracies deploy AI surveillance at a higher rate than any other form of government, a new Carnegie Endowment report finds.

Often described as a toolset for paranoid, autocratic regimes, AI surveillance is deployed more often in Western and liberal-style democracies than in closed dictatorships.

"The fact that so many democracies—as well as autocracies—are taking up this technology means that regime type is a poor predictor for determining which countries will adopt AI surveillance," the report writes.

While liberal and advanced democracies' relative wealth may partly explain the gap, a clearer correlation lies in defense spending. The more a country spends on its military, the more it invests in advanced surveillance.

"A breakdown of military expenditures in 2018 shows that forty of the top fifty military spending countries also have AI surveillance technology," the report writes, "They comprise leading economies like France, Germany, Japan, and South Korea, and poorer states like Pakistan and Oman."

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