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Beijing Police Use Data Storage and AI to Identify Citizens in Public

Facial recognition technology is a highly controversial issue. With very few rules or standards regulating its usage and application, citizens around the globe have some serious concerns – and some of these issues are already occurring.

According to the latest reports, police in Beijing are already using facial recognition technology – in the form of high-tech eyewear – to scan the faces of public citizens. The system, which has already resulted in the arrest of several individuals, compares the incoming information with data stored in government-sponsored archives.

Comparing Results With Stored Data

It's unclear how much information is contained in these databases and how many citizens are included in the files, but the country currently has 170 million surveillance cameras – and plans on tripling that number by 2020. By contrast, that's approximately one surveillance camera for every two citizens in the entire country. Officials are confident that their system will be able to identify any known criminals or suspicious criminals within three seconds.

Officials aren't releasing information on the exact systems used to facilitate the exchange of data, but it relies heavily on advanced AI algorithms and real-time data processing. Many of the recent reports cite tech-driven eyewear – wearable glasses that are equipped with next-gen cameras – as the primary input source.

Some of the most notable cases include 25 arrests at a beer festival in Qingdao – where surveillance cameras reportedly identified a man who had been wanted for 10 years – and the arrest of a man who was attending a concert with 50,000 other attendees. While there is no refuting the success of their new system – even if it is quite limited thus far – the practice is raising serious concerns among human rights activists in China and beyond.

In a recent interview with Business Insider, China's director of Human Rights Watch, Sophie Richardson, expressed outrage at some of the recent news by saying: "Chinese authorities seem to think they can achieve 'social stability' by placing people under a microscope, but these abusive programs are more likely to deepen hostility towards the government. Beijing should immediately stop these programs, and destroy all data gathered without full, informed consent."''

But it isn't all bad news. Despite the controversial nature of many facial recognition programs, others are using the technology to strengthen customer service. For example, some KFC locations in China currently use the technology to predict customer orders. Banks, hotels and airports are also using them to increase security and ensure the safety of travelers.

According to local officials, "90 percent of the crime is caused by the 10 percent of people who are not registered residents" at a specific housing complex in Chongqing. A facial recognition program would help them "recognize strangers, analyze their entry and exit times, see who spends the night here, and how many times."

Public Safety vs. Public Privacy

Between the news coming out of China and the recent concerns of similar programs in the U.K. and U.S., facial recognition technology is getting a bad rap among the mainstream public. While there are plenty of legitimate, useful applications for such hardware, we're walking a fine line between public safety and the public's right to privacy.


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