In China, law enforcement agencies have been using advanced biometric technology to track citizens for years. These technologies are part of a coordinated national effort to create the “omnipresent, completely connected always on and fully controllable” video surveillance network envisioned by the Chinese Ministry of Public Security in 2015.
Emblematic of this unprecedented surveillance apparatus are the facial recognition devices deployed in Shenzhen last April that are meant to deter jaywalkers. These devices take photos of offenders and display them on large LED screens above the intersection, along with their name and part of their government ID number. (There is also a website showing photos and information for jaywalkers in Shenzhen.)
Now Intellifusion, the Chinese artificial intelligence company behind these devices, is taking them a step further by partnering with mobile carriers and social media platforms such as WeChat and Sina Weibo to send text messages directly to offenders as soon as they are caught jaywalking by the cameras.
According to the South China Morning Post, this update to the Shenzhen system is meant to preclude the need to build more of the expensive LED screens in the city. The text message to offenders will include a warning as well as information about the fine for violating the city’s jaywalking rules. Motherboard was unable to determine when these changes will go into effect.
Since implementing the devices, Chinese traffic police have identified nearly 14,000 jaywalkers at a single Shenzhen intersection alone, according to the South China Morning Post. Moreover, Chinese officials claim that the devices have lowered the number of jaywalkers in the city.
China plans to roll out a national social credit system by 2020, which will keep a record of citizens’ violation of laws and directly affect their ability to do things like get a loan or get hired for a job. According to the South China Morning Post, devices like the jaywalking facial recognition system will be part of this network to keep track of the number of jaywalking violations and change a person’s social credit score accordingly.
Even in a country with as many surveillance cameras as the US, Intellifusion’s public facial recognition technology is unsettling. Still, it is hardly the most cutting edge biometric tech deployed by law enforcement in China. Police have already started using glasses that can recognize the faces of wanted criminals and police officers in Beijing have started testing out 720-degree facial recognition body cameras.