BEIJING – The newest use of facial recognition technology has drawn concerns among human rights groups, with some Chinese police sporting high-tech sunglasses that can spot suspects in a crowded train station.
In a scene reminiscent of the dystopian sci-fi TV show “Black Mirror,” officers in the central city of Zhengzhou are wearing the digital shades amid the crush of travelers heading home during Chinese New Year, the busiest time for the country’s transit system.
Quoting the city police department, the state-owned People’s Daily reported that so far the technology has allowed police to nab seven suspects accused of crimes ranging from human trafficking to hit-and-runs, as well as another 26 people who were using fake IDs.
The system is part of China’s efforts to build a digital surveillance system able to use a variety of biometric data — such as photos, iris scans and fingerprints — to keep close tabs on the movements of the entire population.
The rapid development of the technology has triggered a demand for commercial applications as well, with gyms, restaurants and even public toilets getting in on the facial-recognition game.
The special glasses are being used by four officers positioned at entrances to Zhengzhou’s east station.
The glasses have a camera connected to a smartphone-like device that allows the officers to take mugshots of suspicious individuals and compare them to a database back at headquarters.
The app brings up the suspect’s vital information, including name, ethnicity, gender and address.
It also tells officers whether the possible perps are on the run from the law, and informs them of the hotel address where they are staying and information related to their internet usage.
Experts say that due to relatively lax privacy laws, and because Chinese are used to having their biometric and other personal details taken, China’s deployment of facial scanners is overtaking that of the West.
Banks are beginning to use facial recognition instead of cards at ATMs while the travel and leisure industry also sees opportunities. China Southern Airlines this year began doing away with boarding passes in favor of the scheme.
But the programs have drawn fierce criticism from human rights organizations and privacy advocates, who are concerned by their potential for abuse.