Chinese authorities use facial recognition, public shaming to crack down on jaywalking, criminals


Updated

March 20, 2018 21:52:43

In the southern city of Shenzhen, Chinese authorities have launched a new surveillance system loaded with facial recognition, artificial intelligence, and a big database to crack down on jaywalking as well as other crimes.

Key points:

  • Residents of Shenzhen express concern that the surveillance systems are authoritarian
  • Surveys however have shown that 80 per cent of pollsters are in favour of the technology
  • Rights groups report that the technology has already been abused in some regions

As a result, photographs of pedestrians caught in the act, along with their names and social identification numbers, are now instantly displayed on LED screens installed at Shenzhen road junctions.

At some crosswalks, a brake-sounding alarm even goes off if someone walks when the pedestrian light is red, reportedly to alarm the jaywalkers and capture their photo in a moment of panic.

The Shenzhen police have also launched a public website to name and shame offenders — in just six months at only one road junction in Shenzhen, the new system has already snapped 13,930 jaywalking offenders.

The technology is also used by the authority to find missing family members, apprehending fugitives, and identify forged documents.

Similar systems have been in place in other major Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai, but the latest deployment in Shenzhen has some citizens and observers worried the digital surveillance systems are reaching a point of violating personal privacy.

“Despite how obnoxious jaywalking is, there is no legal basis for the police to publish people’s identifying information,” William Long, a famous Shenzhen tech blogger tweeted.

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever,” another Twitter user wrote, a reference to George Orwell’s novel 1984.

According to Chinese state media, once someone has been recorded into the system, jaywalking and other petty crimes also potentially damage one’s score in the country’s reported “social credit system”.

The ambitious initiative reportedly proposes a system by which it can “rate” the trustworthiness of citizens with an index, while looking to “purify” Chinese society by awarding the trustworthy and punishing the disobedient by, for example, banning them from public transport.

But despite this, a survey published by Chinese state media last year showed 80 per cent of pollsters were in favour of using the artificial intelligence cameras to name and shame petty criminals.

“After having their photos displayed on the massive screens, some offenders would contact the traffic police department and request to have their photos removed,” traffic officer Xia Jianshe told state media last year.

“Some would say that they’re willing to pay the fine while promising that they will never run a red light again.”

Alternatively, Mr Xia said, the traffic department can contact the jaywalkers after verifying their identities and retrieving their contact information from the police database.

Currently keeping a watchful eye on its 1.4 billion population with over 176 million surveillance cameras, by 2020, China is looking to quadruple the number of cameras and build an overreaching surveillance network that is “omnipresent, completely connected, always on and fully controllable”, according to the country’s National Development and Reform Commission.

Could the technology be used to create a police state?

As of February, police in China’s Zhengzhou region have launched sunglasses with built-in, facial-recognition technology to track suspects and scan documents.

Meanwhile, Chinese companies, from tech start-ups like SenseTime and Hikvision, to multinational e-commerce giant Alibaba, are working hand-in-glove with the Chinese Government to build the proposed nationwide surveillance and data-sharing platform.

Facial recognition has also been used to prevent toilet paper theft in China since last year, which was reportedly a nationwide problem.

But in addition to managing petty crimes, Human Rights Watch reported last month Chinese authorities were using the technology to monitor ethnic minorities who were deemed a threat to the Communist Party’s rule in the country’s far west province of Xinjiang.

“For the first time, we are able to demonstrate that the Chinese Government’s use of big data and predictive policing not only blatantly violates privacy rights, but also enables officials to arbitrarily detain people,” Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in the report.

In Australia, authorities have access to an unprecedented level of information about citizens, and privacy concerns over the use of digital surveillance have been on the rise, but observers say the use of surveillance technology can be very different in China and in Australia.

“We’re seeing a lot of advances in the technology and more widespread use of the technology in China,” Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Fergus Ryan told the ABC.

“And that is largely to do with a different attitude that the Chinese Government and Chinese citizens have to the use of the technology, and different attitudes towards privacy concerns and whatnot.”

However, he warned different political systems could lead to different outcomes and uses of the technology down the line.

“Without having an independent judiciary, the Chinese Communist Party is more willing and able to look into the potential to use these technologies,” he said.

“They could be used to try to create a more stable society or reduce the amount of conflicts in society.”

Topics:

police,

community-and-society,

china,

asia

First posted

March 20, 2018 18:15:37



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