Belarus Protesters Use AI to ‘Unmask’ Riot Police Wearing Face Coverings

A Blarus-born digital artist named Andrew Maximov recently went viral after posting a video that shows how it is possible to “unmask” riot police who are violently cracking down on protesters in his home country, even if the only part of their face that is visible is their eyes.

For the past four months, thousands of people across Belarus have been staging a series of ongoing protests in opposition to the reelection of Alyaksandr Lukashenk. Lukashenk’s disputed August 9th reelection only added fuel to the fire, and the response from the government has been swift and brutal. For nearly two months, balaclava-clad riot police have been shown beating and dragging away protesters

You can see the tech in action in the video below, which was posted by 30-year-old Maximov, who is currently based in the United States:

The point of the video, Maximov tells Radio Free Europe, is to “demonstrate to the people that, instead of upholding the law in Belarus, they are breaking it daily, that there is every technological capability available to put their faces onto the photo and video evidence of their offenses.”

Maximov said he was on “the front lines” of protests against Lukashenk in 2010, and feels a moral imperative to help the protesters who are struggling against him now.

Of course, just as the AI facial recognition tech used by law enforcement to identify protesters is often criticized for its error rate and inherent biases, the technology demonstrated here also includes the risk of “false positives.” In fact, since Radio Free Europe posted their feature on Maximov’s video, he’s posted an update that reads (Google translated):

Guys, there was information that V.V. Kutsepalov, although it is similar, but maybe not him. Now we are checking.

A few months ago, when the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd were in full swing, photojournalists the world over engaged in a heated debate around whether it was ethical to blur out the faces of protesters to protect their identity from law enforcement using facial recognition.

Technology like what Maximov is showing above turns the tables on that debate, and shows how the same facial recognition tech used by law enforcement can also be used against them.

Image credits: Header photo by Andrew Keymaster, CC0

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