This is the title of the documentary published on the Swiss TV RTS on digital totalitarianism and artificial intelligence the 11.03.2020. Of course the stakes and interests are political and financial, but I am rather interested in the technological aspect of privacy and human tagging.

I take this opportunity to give my personal opinion, especially on mass video surveillance. These regulations (if present and if applied) are quite different in Europe than in China or in the US. But the issues are the same. Those who have the power to decide make the law (Governments and Big Technology Companies).

Since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was introduced on May 25th, 2018, efforts have been made regarding data collected from customers / users or subcontractors in Europe and Switzerland. However, the EU has no digital borders.

Giving a very simple example: if I send an email from Switzerland to a Gmail account, it will inevitably transit through the US Google servers, all filtered by algorithms which provide data mining to the NSA (National Security Agency).

The US or Chinese territories have nothing to do with the EU Laws, even though they may be under some form of pressure to provide confidential data to foreign countries with economic powers and political interests.

The GDPR does not provide “real protection” for confidential data that transit every second through de global network (for technical reasons and because of its idealistic ambition). Nevertheless, the EU has made it a very accurate regulation, difficult to apply and verify after a long time of abuses, but which gives an awareness to “consent” and warns the most “unaware” end-users that at each connection on the Internet, a multitude of information (including meta data) is provided to companies for advertising purposes (profiling) or for people control (under the pretext of national security).

In my opinion we started with the GDPR a little late, after several scandals were made public as for example the major data breach of FB in 2015 that revealed about 50 million profiles to Cambridge Analytica, etc. which prove that the use of personal data collected without knowledge or permission can establish sophisticated models of user’s personalities that raises ethical and privacy issues.We should know that no server connected to the global network can be impenetrable. With the increasing of malicious massive data thefts.


Intelligent video surveillance is a market estimated at $40 billion. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Nice events, etc., the massive installation of video cameras is becoming a very paranoid market based on fear, where the enemy is hidden among us and everyone can be a potential danger.

This idea implies that we have to keep an eye on everyone. In the name of the fight against terrorism, Europe, the United States and especially China have recently engaged a dangerous rush for surveillance technology where everyone is monitored, located, tracked… How far can our fear of security go?

Technology itself cannot replace humans in security. These very expensive technologies (run by weapons companies) are often unreliable and “dangerous”. As the documentary explains, 90% of attackers have been prevented by human intelligence. What feeds the investigators is above all the classic elements of a judicial investigation (neighbourhood enquiries, research into computer and telephony, etc.).

Moreover, these surveillance cameras can give many false positives (just like spam filters). China makes mass use of facial recognition cameras since the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

In 2020 China deploys 600 million of cameras, that is 1 camera for every 2 inhabitants. These tools are also used by the police via a portable application where a lot of sensitive information is recorded and available in real-time. This application is able to store mass data about people, such as electricity, water and gas consumption, vehicle colour, blood groups,religious affiliation, travels made abroad, etc., all of which can be used to identify potential suspects.


(ARTE.TV – Alexandra Dalsbaek – VIRAL #14 – World Pandemic Diary)

In Moscow the video surveillance system is ultra-modern. Since January 2020 100k facial recognition cameras have been placed all over the city on the roads of opposition demonstrations and since February 2020 (beginning of the Covid-19 epidemic) they have been used to monitor people returning from abroad or sick people who are supposed to respect strict confinement.

When users enter or leave the metro they are also systematically subjected to facial recognition cameras. Residents are also filmed as they enter and leave their homes.

Is this a violation of the privacy of the population in Moscow? Facial recognition (Face.ID) is used as an anti-covid-19 strategy.

They photograph people in quarantine whose photos are stored in a database and then the technology combines them with facial recognition, which makes it possible to track the route of the person moving around the city, indicating his or her position. All this data is very often found on the black market and for 5000 rubles anyone can enter your photo into a database and get information about you into the darknet.


For example:

  • From the FaceID of your smartphone stored on the Cloud;
  • From facial images (with tags) posted on FB or other social networks;
  • From facial images posted on private or corporate websites, blogs, etc;
  • From facial images while using video conferencing applications (Skype, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, Imo, WeChat, etc.);
  • And, of course, all media published on Youtube or by third parties such as online newspapers, etc.

Personally, I am impressed by new technologies. But I have always refused to store on the “Cloud” my confidential data since the beginning. I use digital fingerprinting to “prove” who I am to identify myself (very practical), but saved and encrypted locally. I will never use FaceID or Voiceprint, as they are already recognised as an identifier equivalent to DNA. Biometrics is becoming our ID, tattoos and tags. Practical for many features but very intrusive if used for other purposes. All digital print we store on the internet will be saved forever (redundancies of the servers necessary for not to lose the data and to guarantee its longevity.

There is no doubt, all these free services are golden eggs in data mining technologies. Free of charge, we transmit all this information for the great pleasure of the Internet businesses. These technological tools always have hidden costs: our free contribution to provide as much information that feeds the GAFAs and all the subsidiary companies, governmental or not.


Like a virus, the fear of attackers spreads“…

This statement was used long before the Covid-19 global pandemic. at the beginning of the fight against terrorism…

Since the Covid-19 emergency, during our containment or quarantine, we increase further more the servers around the World with confidential medical data.”. With the emergency in finding quick solutions for communicating and business continuity management (Teleworking) the Covid-19 pandemic crisis may also contribute to an unwanted data breach due to the mass use of videoconferencing tools (such as the Zoom application which sends your data to Facebook even if you don’t have a FB account without your consent).

Like Google or Microsoft, the former Silicon Valley start-ups, are currently pursuing an aggressive marketing policy by offering some of its premium services free of charge. In the spotlight, of course, schools. This contributes to the labelling of individuals privacy. At this stage is medical secrecy stored on the Cloud? If yes, where ? Under which legislations ?

Indeed, since the pandemic emergency, consultations are done via video conference applications and medical certificates are sent via e-mail (SMTP: the oldest protocol since the birth of e-mail, but also the most vulnerable and very easily retrievable).

At this stage, individual responsibility, digital sensibilisation and education becomes increasingly important.

Just like the times of MSOffice applications, once you adopt it you don’t think there are alternatives. We get used to it, we don’t want to change our habits, we think there is no alternative because everyone uses it and this means that we need it. Not true anymore today!

I have listed many alternative tools that have been around for several years now, tools that are just equally powerful, just equally user-friendly as “traditional” ones. Sometimes even better designed. but above all, that respect the end-users privacy (technically with end-to-end encryption and which complies with the Data Protection EU Law.

PM/CTO @DIGITALABS, April 6, 2021.

Documentary source produced by Sylvain Louvet & Ludo G. Journalists Hélène Mead & Antoine Cadaux, a production of CAPA with ARTE France and Télé-Québec & Alexandra Dalsbaek (