China's bullet trains to get face-invading cameras
Ticket to ride ... all the way to jail
Chinese police will soon be able to use face recognition technology to catch crims, with cameras to be installed at several stations on the Beijing to Shanghai high speed railway.
The technology, which was used widely at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, will be installed at Shanghai Hongqiao station, Tianjin West and Jinan West, according to Shanghai Daily.
"The quick identification system will enable the police to recognise faces via surveillance cameras and comb criminal databases on computers for the final match," the paper quotes unnamed ‘authorities’ as saying.
According to the reports, the fixed cameras can spot the faces of evil-doers even when they are on the move and can also see through cosmetic surgery procedures which some criminals use to avoid detection.
China’s high speed rail network also compels travellers to show ID when buying tickets, in a system kick-started last year to clamp down on train ticket touts but which also reportedly helped cops nab over 300 fugitives in the Chinese New Year period alone.
Facial recognition has become pretty popular in the People’s Republic, being used not only to identify visitors to stadiums during the Beijing Olympics but also in use cases as diverse as college entrance exams, airports and hospitals.
Companies will be invited to bid for the project from later this week, but any western firms hoping to profit from China’s paranoid predilection for snooping on its citizens may be disappointed.
A China Daily report last month quoted government officials as arguing that the country’s reliance on foreign firms for surveillance technology could threaten China’s national security.
It also cites Frost and Sullivan research claiming that 80 per cent of the nation’s video snooping kit comes from foreign providers such as Cisco, Samsung and Sony.
It would seem inevitable that, just as in virtually every other sphere of technology and engineering, China will create its own standards and products once it has the requisite know-how. ®
Too many epsiodes of 'Spooks'
There are (of course) two types of face recognition problem. There's one where I walk up to my office door, identify myself with some appropriate credentials, and the face recognition just needs to check that 'this is Chris Miller'. You can set up the original parameters in a carefully controlled environment and constrain the lighting and positioning of the face (to a great degree) and yet it still doesn't work all that well (cf Heathrow).
Then there's the problem of identifying an individual from a long (and in China it's likely to be very long) list of 'persons of interest' in a rapidly moving crowd adopting changing orientations to the camera at a relatively great distance and with less than optimal lighting. I suppose nothing's impossible, but good luck with getting that to work without deluging you with false positives.
China's a trailblazer these days. Look, the western world has followed them on the censorship and is sure to follow with this, too. Whether this'll be beneficial to the citizenry? Definitely it is unless you're a doubter. Are you a doubter?
Shit, we all know this tune. We all know what's going to happen next and we also know that our top cops are just salivating for this sort of thing. Soon it'll be a simple matter to just upgrade the existing CCTV installations and then it's a numbers game. A few percent chance detection per camera, times how many cameras? Are you feeling safe and secure yet, citizen?
Even if you don't care a whit about faraway China, this will eventually impact all of us. We really do need to make us some choices about just what we want with the technology. How do we tell our overlords what's going to happen to the systems installed ostentatiously for our benefit, currently mainly used for their dog poo and littering detection properties?
How do we try and contain the tech so that it really only is used for the purpose it was sold us for (which currently is not the case, obviously), and can we possibly succeed? We've got our work cut out for us.
Re: The problem...
Conveniently, a criminal is defined as anyone recognized by the system as being a criminal. Hey, look! Our system makes no mistakes!
What? Do you say our system makes mistakes? That is criticism of the Party! You must be a criminal!