Heightened Surveillance Raises Civil Liberties Concerns at COP28

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Surveillance cameras, numbering over 12,000, are casting a watchful eye on the United Nations’ COP28 climate summit in Dubai, triggering apprehensions about privacy and civil liberties. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), known for its extensive surveillance network, utilizes these cameras, with facial recognition already implemented at Dubai International Airport. Concerns arise as experts believe the UAE holds one of the highest per capita concentrations of surveillance cameras globally, potentially allowing authorities to track individuals without the civil liberty safeguards seen in Western nations.

Spying Allegations Hovering Over COP28 Cameras

The surveillance cameras deployed at COP28 belong to Presight, an Emirati company associated with spying allegations and connections to a mobile phone app identified as spyware. Presight, a spin-off of G42, has faced claims of potentially collecting genetic material for the Chinese government. G42, overseen by the UAE’s powerful national security adviser, did not respond to requests for comment. With over 12,000 cameras in Dubai Expo City, concerns about the potential misuse of surveillance data have emerged.

Limited Transparency and Potential Privacy Breaches

While the Emirati committee organizing COP28 asserts that only the UN’s Department for Safety and Security has access to security camera data in the Blue Zone, where official negotiations occur, concerns persist. The privacy of participants in the broader Green Zone and the entire city-state remains under Emirati security services. Questions about potential privacy breaches and misuse of personal information prompted the committee to issue a statement emphasizing the paramount importance of safety, security, and data privacy.

Activists Operate Under Surveillance Assumption

Activists at COP28, including Human Rights Watch researcher Joey Shea, operate under the assumption that private conversations are impossible, fostering an environment of constant surveillance. The seemingly omnipresent surveillance in the UAE has created an “environment of fear and tension,” according to Marta Schaaf, Amnesty International’s director of climate, economic and social justice. Activists have become cautious, with some intentionally avoiding having their pictures taken or flipping their ID badges during demonstrations.

Historical Context and Growing Surveillance Network

The UAE’s extensive surveillance network gained international attention in 2010 when Dubai police used surveillance footage to piece together an operation involving suspected Israeli Mossad operatives. Since then, the surveillance infrastructure has expanded, with collaborations like the use of Pegasus spyware raising concerns about human rights. The current scenario at COP28 reflects heightened surveillance, leaving attendees feeling scrutinized and prompting comparisons to previous instances of visible intimidation during such events.

SOURCE: Ref Image from Reddington

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