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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Until now, the vast majority of information collected about us has remained untouched — there was just too much to make sense of it all.

What's happening: Artificial intelligence allows data that might once have gone unnoticed to now be detected, analyzed and logged in real time. It's already started supercharging surveillance at work, in schools and in cities.

The big picture: Humans have monitored each other as long as we've lived in communities to punish free riders and troublemakers.

  • But now, cheap, powerful machines are taking the place of human watchers, disrupting a long-held social contract.
  • Unlike in China, where high-tech surveillance is a tool of fear and control, systems in the West are not centralized for now, curbing the scope of data gathering.
  • And tech companies like Facebook and Google have perfected online versions of automated surveillance for profit, in the form of products we can no longer live without.

Details: Software can identify and track faces, skin color, clothing, tattoos, walking gait and various other physical attributes and behaviors. But it's been plagued with bias and inaccuracy problems that primarily harm people of color.

  • From facial expressions and body movements, AI can extrapolate emotions like happiness and anger — a process built on shaky scientific evidence.

The impact: This quiet shift from passive watching to active surveillance is chipping away at our ability to remain anonymous in physical and virtual spaces.

  • Blending into the crowd is no longer an option if every face in that crowd is captured, compared against a driver's license photo and logged.
  • Constant AI surveillance threatens to erode the all-important presumption of innocence, says Clare Garvie, a privacy expert at Georgetown Law.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Reports: CIA finds "Havana Syndrome" unlikely caused by foreign campaign

CIA Director William Burns testifies during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill last April. Photo: Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images

A preliminary CIA report rules out a foreign global campaign as the cause of American and Canadian diplomats affected by a mysterious illness known as "Havana syndrome," per multiple reports.

Why it matters: Some lawmakers had suggested the sometimes debilitating illness was due to directed energy attacks. But CIA officials told the New York Times that most of the 1,000 cases reported to the government could be "explained by environmental causes, undiagnosed medical conditions or stress." This finding has angered some victims, per the NYT.

Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 2 far-right "America First" activists

The House panel investigating the Capitol riot, from left; Reps. Bennie Thompson, Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger and Jamie Raskin on Capitol Hill in December. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the Capitol riot issued subpoenas Wednesday for far-right leaders Nick Fuentes and Patrick Casey, who allegedly encouraged followers to go to D.C. and challenge the 2020 election results.

Why it matters: The action underscores the panel's increasing focus on rallies held ahead of the Capitol attack and how extremists were drawn to former President Trump's baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, per the New York Times.

Democrats fail to change Senate rules to pass voting rights bill

Senate Majority Leader during a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democrats failed Wednesday night to change Senate filibuster rules to pass the voting rights bill, with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) voting with Republicans.

The big picture: The failed effort came after Senate Republicans blocked the voting rights measure from coming to a final vote earlier Wednesday.