Privacy campaigners have expressed alarm after the government revealed it had hired an artificial intelligence firm to analyse UK citizens’ tweets as part of a coronavirus-related contract, according to the Guardian. Faculty, which was hired by Dominic Cummings to work for the Vote Leave campaign, was paid £400,000 by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for the work, according to a copy of the contract published online. In response to questions about the contract in the House of Lords, the government published an unredacted version of the contract, which describes the company’s work as “topic analysis of social media to understand public perception and emerging issues of concern to HMG arising from the Covid-19 crisis”. A further paragraph describes how machine learning will be applied to social media data.
Silkie Carlo, the director of the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, which discovered the updated contract, expressed alarm at the details. “This is effectively AI-powered mass political surveillance, and it’s been done in a very secretive way, apparently to inform policy,” she said.