Facial Recognition AI Applications: China vs USA

Facial recognition sunglasses used by Chinese police in Zhengzhou, Henan Province during Chinese New Year.

Facial recognition sunglasses used by Chinese police in Zhengzhou, Henan Province during Chinese New Year.

Facial recognition software has been used in China for quite a while. China has used facial recognition software to scan large gatherings of people in an effort to capture known criminals. The benefit to greater society outweighs all privacy concerns. In North America, we value our privacy and do not want the authorities to accumulate vast amounts of facial recognition data. North Americans believe we should be able to walk around in public and not be recorded for whatever purpose.

These diametrically opposed views have many consequences, and will affect how AI progresses in the future.

A man wanted since 2015 for an economic crime walks into a concert in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, China. He is later arrested after the facial recognition AI system positively identified him. Kudos to the police, they say, but from a North American viewpoint the other 20,000 concert-goers had their privacy inadvertently breached. Is this a reasonable tradeoff? China’s justification for using facial recognition is that the benefit of greater society is more important than the privacy of the individual.

Another news article documents the finding of a mentally ill man in Chongqing, missing for over a year. Through facial recognition software he was reunited with his family in neighbouring Sichuan Province.

There are news articles about scanning the Zhengzhou Railway station during Chinese New Year and catching known criminals. Police are using special sunglasses that helped identify known criminals.

Up to Tuesday, police had identified seven fugitives related to hit-and-run and human trafficking cases, plus spotted 26 cases of identity fraud with the use of the glasses at four entrances at the station…

About 70,000 to 120,000 people use the railway station each day.

Facial recognition sunglasses used by Chinese police in Zhengzhou, Henan Province during Chinese New Year.

Facial recognition sunglasses used by Chinese police in Zhengzhou, Henan Province during Chinese New Year.

What about the privacy of the other 70,000-120,000 people at the train station, who did nothing illegal and were merely there to travel? These are privacy questions that seem to not be questioned in China.

Amazon has been recently criticized for offering to sell its facial recognition software to police. While in China this would be most welcome, in North America there are great concerns over abuse of the technology by police and a clear breach of privacy in a public place.

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government,” the groups wrote in a letter to Amazon on Tuesday. “Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom…”

It cost the sheriff’s office just $400 to load 305,000 booking photos into the system and $6 per month in fees to continue the service, according to an email obtained by the ACLU under a public records request.

The reactions to facial recognition in these two societies cannot be more opposed. The implications for this in the future are as yet unknown.

What is certain is that facial recognition companies and technology in China will receive much more funding than that of the US, because the software is more widely used in China. This has great implications for the future of facial recognition and AI. This has great commercial implications.

On a more sinister note China seems to be using facial recognition software to identify Muslims in Xinjiang, and making a judgement on whether a resident might commit a crime, before the crime is committed. This has strong negative implications on society. Should this software be used as a preemptive judgement of people? I think not.

Technology will always improve, but its application may not be beneficial to society.

Addendum 2018 May 25 Fugitive apprehended in Chenzhou, Hunan, at a gems expo, using facial recognition.

The facial recognition system was installed at the show as part of a coordinated effort by court officials and police in Chenzhou to bring people suspected or convicted of evading their debts and related costs to justice.

Over the course of five days, a total of 536,878 yuan was collected in on-the-spot fines, and of the 65 people identified as fugitives, 17 were subsequently detained, the report said.

2018 May 26 AI Facial Recognition Nabs Another Fugitive, China Uncensored

2018 May 31

Chinese authorities are targeting a nationwide surveillance network, leveraging off tools made by companies like Hisign to compile data gleaned from smartphones and cameras into an online database of its near 1.4 billion people…

Chinese authorities over the past two years have escalated security and surveillance operations across Xinjiang, widely using technology to track the local Uygur population as well as other Muslim minorities, residents and human rights activists say. China denies carrying out repression in the region.

2018 June 01 In China, classroom cameras scan student faces for emotion, stoking fears of new form of state monitoring

Russia’s most prominent facial recognition company, Ntechlab, has also developed emotion-recognition algorithms. But even the best current technology doesn’t work well on an individual basis, warned founder Artem Kukharenko. “It’s very difficult to label the underlying emotion,” he said, since external expression and internal feeling don’t always correlate well.

2018 June 07 Unproven facial-recognition companies target schools, promising an end to shootings in the US.

The surveillance firms say little about how they designed, tested or safeguarded their facial-recognition systems because, they argue, it is proprietary information. They also play down privacy concerns, despite worries from parents over the lack of oversight into who controls the children’s facial images and how they can be used in the long term…

Parents and privacy experts worry, however, that schools are rushing to adopt untested and invasive artificial-intelligence systems with no proof of success.

2018 June 13 China wants to track citizens’ cars with mandatory RFID chips

The Chinese government is readying a program that will make it possible to track citizens’ cars using RFID chips, according to The Wall Street Journal. The program, which will be voluntary at first but mandatory for new vehicles starting in 2019, starts rolling out on July 1st.

The program is being put in place by China’s Ministry of Public Security, and the ministry’s Traffic Management Research Institute. By installing RFID chips on the windshields of new cars, and reading devices on the side of China’s roads, government officials reportedly hope to be able to study and improve congestion, therefore helping to reduce pollution — a major priority for China’s president Xi Jinping. They also hope to use it to help stem the rise of vehicular terrorist attacks, according to documents reviewed by the WSJ.

2018 Jul 08 Inside China’s Dystopian Dreams: A.I., Shame and Lots of Cameras

Even so, China’s ambitions outstrip its abilities. Technology in place at one train station or crosswalk may be lacking in another city, or even the next block over. Bureaucratic inefficiencies prevent the creation of a nationwide network.

For the Communist Party, that may not matter. Far from hiding their efforts, Chinese authorities regularly state, and overstate, their capabilities. In China, even the perception of surveillance can keep the public in line…

“This is potentially a totally new way for the government to manage the economy and society,” said Martin Chorzempa, a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics…

Many of these businesses are already providing data to the government…

At a building complex in Xiangyang, a facial-recognition system set up to let residents quickly through security gates adds to the police’s collection of photos of local residents, according to local Chinese Communist Party officials…

“The whole point is that people don’t know if they’re being monitored, and that uncertainty makes people more obedient,” said Mr. Chorzempa, the Peterson Institute fellow.

He described the approach as a panopticon, the idea that people will follow the rules precisely because they don’t know whether they are being watched.

2018 Jul 16 Looking Through the Eyes of China’s Surveillance State

With a bit of squinting and adjustment I found my right eye looking through a view finder like one on an old video camera. First I was instructed to aim it at a female officer. A small rectangle appeared around her head, and after a few seconds, the screen displayed her name and national identification number. I then repeated the process on Mr. Shan.

Emboldened, I tried the glasses out on a group standing about 20 feet away. For a moment, the glasses got a lock on a man’s face. But then the group noticed me, and the man blocked his face with his hand. The minicomputer failed to register a match before he moved. Seconds later, the people scattered.

New York Times reporter tries China's facial recognition glasses in Zhengzhou, China

New York Times reporter tries China’s facial recognition glasses in Zhengzhou, China

2018 Jul 18 Beijing’s new Zaha Hadid-designed airport to showcase latest facial recognition technology

2018 Jul 24 China uses facial recognition system to deter tax-free traders at Hong Kong-Shenzhen border: Used to identify those who shop tax free in HK and then sell in Shenzhen. This is probably a proper use of this tech.
2018 Jul 26 China’s Xinjiang Region: A Surveillance State Unlike Any the World Has Ever Seen

2018 Aug 04 Drones, facial recognition and a social credit system: 10 ways China watches its citizens

2018 Aug 07 Cellphone tracking has been used in at least 1 Canadian mall, former employee says: Cadillac Fairview uses facial recognition to track customers in their malls

Cadillac Fairview had already acknowledged it uses facial recognition software and cameras in mall directories to track shoppers’ ages and genders without telling them.

The admission came after a patron noticed software running on one of the directories at Calgary’s Chinook Centre and posted an image to social media site Reddit…

Signage outside Cadillac Fairview shopping centres in Calgary did not mention location tracking or facial recognition specifically, but there is notice that the premises is video recorded for “safety and security.”

2018 Oct 25 Is nowhere private? Chinese subway users upset by plans to install facial recognition systems: Guangzhou subway implements faster queue but you need to preregister with app for facial recognition

2018 Oct 26 With No Laws To Guide It, Here’s How Orlando Is Using Amazon’s Facial Recognition Technology

“In my view, law-enforcement agencies should be careful not to deploy facial recognition technology without clear policies for how it will be used that are shaped by public input,” Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, told BuzzFeed News. “For its part, Amazon has a duty to ensure there are strong safeguards in place against misuse. Facial recognition technology is too powerful to simply be sold to anyone and everyone, regardless of their knowledge or intent.”

2018 Dec 28 Beijing turns to facial recognition to combat public housing abuses

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