China Starts Using Facial Recognition-Enabled 'Smart' Locks In Its Public Housing
from the just-wait-until-they-know-your-citizen-score-too dept
Surveillance using facial recognition is sweeping the world. That’s partly for the usual reason that the underlying digital technology continues to become cheaper, more powerful and thus more cost-effective. But it’s also because facial recognition can happen unobtrusively, at a distance, without people being aware of its deployment. In any case, many users of modern smartphones have been conditioned to accept it unthinkingly, because it’s a quick and easy way to unlock their device. This normalization of facial recognition is potentially bad news for privacy and freedom, as this story in the South China Morning Post indicates:
Beijing is speeding up the adoption of facial recognition-enabled smart locks in its public housing programmes as part of efforts to clamp down on tenancy abuse, such as illegal subletting.
The face-scanning system is expected to cover all of Beijing’s public housing projects, involving a total of 120,000 tenants, by the end of June 2019
Although a desire to stop tenancy abuses sounds reasonable enough, it’s important to put the move in a broader context. As Techdirt reported back in 2017, China is creating a system storing the facial images of every Chinese citizen, with the ability to identify any one of them in three seconds. Although the latest use of facial recognition with “smart” locks is being run by the Beijing authorities, such systems don’t exist in isolation. Everything is being cross-referenced and linked together to ensure a complete picture is built up of every citizen’s activities — resulting in what is called the “citizen score” or “social credit” of an individual. China said last year that it would start banning people with “bad” citizen scores from using planes and trains for up to a year. Once the “smart” locks are in place, it would be straightforward to make them part of the social credit system and its punishments — for example by imposing a curfew on those living at an address, or only allowing certain “approved” visitors.
Even without using “smart” locks in this more extreme way, the facial recognition system could record everyone who came visiting, and how long they stayed, and transmit that data to a central monitoring station. The scope for abuse by the authorities is wide. If nothing else, it’s a further reminder that if you are not living in China, where you may not have a choice, installing “smart” Internet of things devices voluntarily may not be that smart.