Lobby organisation AfriForum has sent a letter to the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral), expressing its opposition to the use of facial recognition software that it says will violate citizens' constitutional right to privacy, and which may form part of the proposed broader use of machine learning technology that is being investigated to improve road safety.
AfriForum questions whether Sanral is able to successfully implement such a project and how Sanral plans on preventing the possible abuse of machine learning technology.
“AfriForum is concerned that Sanral cites China as an example where machine learning technology has been successfully implemented, especially since the Chinese government has a poor record in terms of human rights violations and infringing on the privacy of its citizens,” says AfriForum legal and risk manager Marnus Kamfer.
Technological progress cannot be pursued by government to increase surveillance abilities that would violate the privacy of its citizens, or to a degree that would enable rampant abuse, AfriForum states.
The organisation has requested that Sanral provide detailed information about the implementation of machine learning technology, as well as steps it will take to ensure the privacy of citizens is protected.
“AfriForum does not oppose the harnessing of the latest technology to facilitate road safety, law enforcement or emergency response. However, this progress cannot be pursued at the cost of people’s constitutional rights,” says Kamfer.
In an April 19 statement, Sanral said its Technical Innovation Hub (TIH) was exploring the use of machine learning to improve road safety, reduce congestion and inform infrastructure development. It described the use of machine learning image recognition systems that can be trained to classify objects detected in footage.
This will allow the detection and classification of different types of vehicles, pedestrians, animals or cyclists. The classification classes can be further expanded to distinguish between slow moving traffic and a road traffic crash, or fire or protest detection and foreign objects such as rocks or tyres.
Sanral cited the use of facial recognition technology on roads in China, enabling automatic issuing of fines. It also pointed out the significant risks of such technology and said all efforts were being made to understand how to effectively use the technology while maintaining strict compliance with legislation as it relates to the privacy of road users.
The agency did not indicate that facial recognition systems, a sub-set of image recognition technology that is typically part of biometrics systems, was being investigated.