China's Surveillance Plans Include 600 Million CCTV Cameras Nationwide, And Pervasive Facial Recognition

from the I-saw-what-you-did-there,-and-know-who-you-are dept

Two of the recurrent themes here on Techdirt recently are China’s ever-widening surveillance of its citizens, and the rise of increasingly powerful facial recognition systems. Those two areas are brought together in a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal that explores China’s plans to roll out facial recognition systems on a massive scale. That’s made a lot easier by the pre-existing centralized image database of citizens, all of whom must have a government-issued photo ID by the age of 16, together with billions more photos found on social networks, to which the Chinese government presumably has ready access.

As for the CCTV side of things, the article quotes industry research figures according to which China already has 176 million surveillance cameras in public and private hands, and is forecast to add another 450 million by 2020. If those figures are to be believed, that would mean around 600 million CCTV cameras by that date — around one for every three people in China. According to the Wall Street Journal:

Facial-recognition cameras are being used in China for routine activities such as gaining entrance to a workplace, withdrawing cash from an ATM and unlocking a smartphone. A KFC restaurant in Beijing is scanning customer faces, then making menu suggestions based on gender and age estimates. One popular park in the capital has deployed it to fight toilet-paper theft in restrooms, using face-scanning dispensers that limit each person to one 2-foot length of paper every nine minutes.

Other existing uses include on a running track to check that people aren’t taking shortcuts, and in churches, mosques and temples, where CCTV cameras are deployed in conjunction with facial recognition to keep tabs on exactly who is engaging in these activities, which are regarded with suspicion by the authorities. Future possibilities are also explored by the article. Inevitably, police use of facial recognition systems figures prominently here:

Still to come: a police car with a roof-mounted camera able to scan in all directions at once and identify wanted lawbreakers. Researchers at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Sichuan province have developed a working prototype. “We?ve tested it at up to 120 kilometers per hour,” said Yin Guangqiang, head of the university’s security-technology lab.

If the prospect of being recognized by a police car hurtling past you at high speed isn’t exciting enough, you can look forward to being spotted by a squadron of facial-recognition drones that a Chinese company is working on. The bad news is that this is still “a little ways into the future”, but we can be pretty sure that once it is possible, China will be among the first to deploy it as part of its ever-more pervasive high-tech surveillance system, with facial recognition playing a central role.

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Comments on “China's Surveillance Plans Include 600 Million CCTV Cameras Nationwide, And Pervasive Facial Recognition”

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Anonymous Coward says:

it used to be that China was the instigator of this sort thing, condemned totally by the rest of the world. now it sits back and waits for the USA, UK and the like to do what it wanted to do and then goes ahead, knowing that it cant be condemned at all! how things have changed and how it is now the so-called democratic, free countries leading the way on spying on everything, everyone, everywhere and the countries that led the way, now just trot along behind, doing exactly what they want with the excuse of ‘they (USA UK etc) are doing it and no one said/did a damn thing! all we are doing is copying them!
i suppose the next thing will be that China and the like will be sued for copyright infringement, for copying the super surveillance of it’s citizens and removal of more freedom and privacy just like the USA etc are doing! given how the USA and UK will take all the bullshit and lies from Hollywood, the MPAA, RIAA etc and do whatever they are told to screw citizens, it wouldn’t surprise me! i’m just waiting for all this ‘infringement’ shit to come back and bite seriously in the arses of the industries and the governments!

Ninja (profile) says:

This CCTV and facial recognition madness is not exclusive to China. They are just the issue taken to the extreme as you’d expect from them.

Sadly, the ones pushing for those systems will be affected by them even if unconsciously. We’ve had enough studies to show how humans change their behaviors when they believe they are being surveilled all the time and how bad it is psychologically.

Brave new world eh?

Anon E. Mous (profile) says:

The UK has been using such systems for a long time and other countries are following the lead.

The difference between China and the UK will be that China will be using this to crack down on dissent and to help track those who are encouraging subverse activity against the party or the state.

You can bet your ass that those who China suspects are enemies of the state or party whereabouts will be much easier to track and apprehend and of course seek punishment against.

I certainly don’t believe that China will be using this new CCTV system and facial recognition to help the people feel safer or secure, more the threat of we are watching everything you do, behave or else.

Anonymous Coward says:

What exactly are people supposed to do about this? Obviously in China they’re basically screwed. But here in the US, do we still have a chance of shooting this idea down? Or baring that, how do we realistically combat surveillance cameras on every corner, store, and police car?

Yes, I’ve seen the articles about asymmetric clothes, hair, and makeup. But that’s a serious amount of hassle.
And most places now will ask you to take off things that cover your face.

I admit, I’m a bit of a tinfoil hat wearing kinda guy, but that’s only because I’ve seen first hand the kind of nefarious purposes for which this technology can be used.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The long term solution to this, as with so many other problems, is to replace the corrupt, illegitimate government implementing it with a genuinely representative one.

The only way to do that is degrade and disrupt the support network keeping them in power. Start by not buying anything from the corporations that support them in any way (most big business). Voting with your wallet is the only kind of voting that matters.

Here are some other ideas:

Matthew J. Davis (user link) says:

Its there choice! Just for protection!

If China wants to be in a system like UK then it’s their choice. They only want to tighten up their security. Hope in my country these will be implemented also so that we can minimize any crime or violence. Yes! These can’t totally eliminate the crime but can minimize them. Also with a world full of people blaming the government of being strict, the government only need to protect its people and its country. Just like a business man who want to protect its business and a parents who wants to protect its family. So, there is nothing wrong with china having these kind of project.

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