Latest News 08-06-2024 09:01 12 Views

AI enabling Iran’s crackdown on women as authoritarian regime uses tech to enforce head covering

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s use of artificial intelligence (AI) to crack down on its populace is having a particular impact on the freedoms of Iranian women. 

Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Fox News Digital the Iranian regime 'is moving into the AI realm to benefit even more from technology that links together the disparate elements of facial recognition, CCTV, cell phone analysis, traffic geolocation and internet monitoring,' which 'bolster its cyber crackdown on street protesters or women who don’t wear their hijab correctly.'

Enhanced AI tools will be a key facet of the forthcoming Hijab and Chastity Bill, approved by the Iranian Parliament in September 2023 and awaiting ratification from the regime’s Guardian Council. 

Taleblu said AI has become 'the cherry on the sundae of Iran’s digital repression, whether that starts with very crude tools like CCTV in a shop or whatever repository of purportedly criminal behavior that the regime puts at the feet of these AI sorting tools. Because humans don't have to make the linkages, it frees up more manpower for mischief from the Iranian repressive apparatus.'

Article 30 of the Hijab and Chastity Bill states police will 'create and strengthen intelligent systems for identifying perpetrators of illegal behavior using tools such as fixed and mobile cameras,' Iran International reported. Article 60 forces private businesses to turn in video footage to enforcement personnel to check for compliance. 

Businesses that fail to comply could lose 'two to six months worth of profits.' Women who fail to cover their hair properly face consequences ranging from fines to 'social exclusion, exile, closure of social media pages, passport confiscation for up to two years' and possibly imprisonment for up to 10 years. 

Taleblu explained the Hijab and Chastity Bill allows authorities to use AI to leverage 'lawfare and economic warfare against women' by going after non-compliant women’s homes, cars, bank accounts and livelihoods. 

U.N. experts say the bill allows Iran to govern 'through systemic discrimination with the intention of suppressing women and girls into total submission,' which amounts to gender persecution, or gender apartheid. 

Long before the bill’s passage, the regime began preparing for increased AI use, installing new cameras throughout Iran as early as April 2023. A report from Amnesty International detailed increasing pressures on Iranian women between April 15, 2023, and June 14, 2023. During this period, an Iranian police spokesperson claimed police had sent 'almost 1 million SMS warning messages to women captured unveiled in their cars' and 133,174 messages about vehicle immobilizations. About 2,000 cars had been confiscated, and more than 4,000 'repeat offenders' had been referred to Iran’s judiciary.

Between April 2023 and March 2024, Amnesty International found the morality police had 'ordered the arbitrary confiscation of hundreds of thousands of vehicles' because those inside were improperly covered. Testimony indicates confiscation orders were 'based on pictures captured by surveillance cameras or reports from plainclothes agents patrolling the streets and using a police app … to report license plates.' Amnesty also reported that some women were sentenced to prison or flogging, faced fines or were sent to 'morality' classes.

The regime likely used AI during 2022 protests after the death of Mahsa Amini, who was beaten after being arrested by morality police for wearing her hijab too loosely.

As head of the United Nations’ fact-finding mission into Iran’s 2022 protests, Sara Hossain determined the Iranian regime did use AI to monitor social media platforms during protests, Iran Wire reported. 

In October 2023, the U.S. sped up its timeline for blocking exports of AI chips to China, Iran and Russia to curtail their access to advanced AI capabilities.

Taleblu suggested additional methods for controlling access to tech that could 'bolster Iran’s digital or cyber repressive apparatus.' He recommends the U.S. work with European firms to increase export controls and keep close track of new Chinese tech subsidiaries operating in Iran. By consistently exposing and sanctioning new firms, the U.S. 'increases their transaction costs.'

'There is talk of tech and cyberspace and AI freeing people and building bridges,' Taleblu said, 'but the Islamic Republic is really intending to use them to build boundaries and then continue to wall off Iran and impose their will on the population.' 


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