With a bunch of reports detailing the ills of facial recognition systems that have dominated the conversation around the unregulated technology, a breath of fresh air comes after a fugitive has been caught by a facial recognition system in China earlier this week.
Chinese police officers arrested an unnamed fugitive at a Cantopop star’s concert in Zhanjiang city at the southwestern end of Guangdong province. The arrest was highly attributed to the facial recognition system used by Chinese law enforcement in concerts and crowded gatherings to spot fugitives and wanted criminals. The said system has already been in used since late 2017.
The Zhanjiang public security bureau has released the video of the arrest in the law enforcement’s official TikTok account.
The suspect was reportedly a die-hard fan of the pop group, and as he was standing in line to get in the concert, his image was caught by the camera in the concert’s ticketing booth and was eventually matched to a fugitive in the database. The police apprehended him in the middle of the show.
Chinese police are using facial recognition to arrest suspects in concerts
This is not the first time that a suspect has been apprehended while attending a concert in China. Between December 28 and 30 in 2018, more than 22 wanted men were identified at a concert by Hong Kong Cantopop star Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau in Suzhou, a city west of Shanghai.
In May 2018, a man was also arrested when a facial recognition system identified his photo while he was attending a crowded concert in China. The suspect was identified with the surname Yu and was under investigation since 2015 for allegations of stealing more than $17,000 worth of potatoes.
“A few minutes after he passed through the security checkpoint, our system issued a warning that he was a wanted person,” said Shen Yueguang, an official from the Nanhu District Public Security Bureau referring the May 2018 arrest.
In the same month, another man wanted for “economic crimes” was arrested in Jiangxi province in southeast China after facial recognition cameras detected his presence at a Cheung concert attended by 60,000 people.
The arrests are emblematic of China’s growing eagerness to establish a nationwide surveillance system with plans from the government to integrate an array of camera systems that monitor roads, shopping malls, transportation hubs, and buildings.
The project, known as “Sharp Eyes,” aims to target criminals, arrest fugitives, predict crime and monitor the habits of the country’s 1.4 billion people.
The United States is doing it too
China isn’t the only one with this plan. The United States has long been working in establishing a surveillance network like this. The FBI’s Next Generation Identification system uses face recognition to match crime scene images to a national database of mug shots.
However, the academic sector still insists on the risks that come with using facial recognition in fighting crimes. They raise the concern of how inaccurate these systems are and the unregulated nature of how it is being used.
A study conducted by Clare Garvie from Georgetown Law Center revealed that police departments are feeding celebrity images, artists sketches, and unconventional photos to facial recognition system to generate a match. These images are called “probe photos” and are matched against the police mugshot and drivers’ license database.
“The stakes are too high in criminal investigations to rely on unreliable—or wrong—inputs. It is one thing for a company to build a face recognition system designed to help individuals find their celebrity doppelgänger or painting lookalike for entertainment purposes. It’s quite another to use these techniques to identify criminal suspects, who may be deprived of their liberty and ultimately prosecuted based on the match. Unfortunately, police departments’ reliance on questionable probe photos appears all too common,” Garvie wrote in her study.
“NYPD officers arrested after texting a witness a single face recognition “possible match” photograph with accompanying text: “Is this the guy…?” The witness’ affirmative response to viewing the single photo and accompanying text, with no live lineup or photo array ever conducted, was the only confirmation of the possible match before officers making an arrest,” she added.
Along with the apprehensions on how the police and the government use facial recognition technology, they are also still insisting on focusing on regulating these systems. Garvie said that even if the FBI can potentially improve the accuracy of the algorithms in the systems they use, none of it will matter as long as regulation still lags in making sure that they won’t be abused.