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Illustration by Security Management

Chinese Authorities Contract to Use Facial Recognition to Label, Track Journalists and Others

Reuters reported that Henan, a province in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), contracted with a technology company to build a system that would use facial recognition to track journalists, international students, and other persons deemed suspicious.

Surveillance research firm IPVM initially found documents on a provincial government procurement website showing that the government awarded a contract to Neusoft to build the surveillance and database project on 17 September. The contract called for using 3,000 facial recognition cameras connected to national and regional databases. It called for using a traffic-light system to classify journalists according to risk, with red representing the highest risk.

“Suspicious persons must be tailed and controlled, dynamic research analyses and risk assessments made, and the journalists dealt with according to their category,” the contracting documents detailed.

Reuters spoke with IPVM Head of Operations Donald Maye, who said, “While the PRC has a documented history of detaining and punishing journalists for doing their jobs, this document illustrates the first known instance of the PRC building custom security technology to streamline state suppression of journalists.”

The contract specifically said the system would need to be accessible to at least 2,000 officials, and, Reuters reported, it should “build a relatively accurate file for individuals whose faces are partially covered by a mask or glasses, and those targeted must be searchable on the database by simply uploading a picture or searching their facial attributes.”

The system should alert authorities if any red- or yellow-labeled journalists purchase air or train tickets to travel to Henan Province, registers in a hotel, or crosses a border into the province.

The BBC reported a parallel set-up for foreign students, dividing them into three categories: excellent foreign students; general personnel; and key people and unstable personnel. Country of origin, class attendance, exam results, and school disciplinary actions are the factors to be considered in the classification.

Reuters said it was unable to determine if the surveillance system was running, though the contract called for it to be completed in two months. The BBC reported that the “system is thought to already be in use across the country.”

The use of facial recognition continues to be an important topic for security professionals, a fact highlighted by coverage of the topic over the last couple of years in Security Management and other ASIS International publications:

Facial Recognition: Considerations to Make Before Deployment

“Successful use cases of facial recognition include identification of banned attendees at events, unauthorized access, and identification of persons in secure areas. While these venues may have a high population of people, they have likely developed good surveillance conditions and usually have numerous other security tools in place to support the operation. Many of these factors create favorable conditions to support the success of facial recognition as a surveillance tool.

“Conversely, without the right conditions, it becomes increasingly difficult for facial recognition technologies to make accurate identifications, leading to false positives or negatives, potential lawsuits, and brand damage. Using facial recognition as a surveillance tool in poor conditions like low-quality lighting or poor visual angles negatively impacts accuracy. Furthermore, use as a mass surveillance solution, gathering images and comparing them with data in databases with millions of images from various sources (frequently social media scrapes or DMV photos), has led to wrongful arrests, high-profile mismatches in the news, distrust of the technology, and damaged reputations. In some instances, local authorities have banned the technology outright.”

– Reese Huebsch from Atriade in the June 2021 Security Technology issue.

Should Facial Recognition Be Banned?

“Like other technologies, facial recognition can be misused. Just as the absence of governmental oversight and traffic laws would substantially increase the potential for automobiles to inflict harm; imagine driving down the street where there were no rules of the road, no speed limits, no lane markers or stop signs. It would be chaos. Where we are today with facial recognition in the United States is akin to lots of open road with very few traffic signs.”

–Dan Grimm from SAFR in the June 2020 Security Management.

Municipalities Frown at Facial Recognition Over Privacy, Justice Concerns

“After the false arrest [of Robert Julian-Borchak Williams in 2019], the Detroit Police Department changed its policy to allow only still photos—not video footage—to be used for facial recognition, and only for violent crimes investigations.

“‘Facial recognition software is an investigation tool that is used to generate leads only,’ said Detroit Police Department Sergeant Nicole Kirkwood in a statement to NPR. ‘Additional investigative work, corroborating evidence, and probable cause are required before an arrest can be made.’

“While Williams’ arrest made headlines and caught the attention of the ACLU, some instances where facial recognition misidentifies an individual do not. Concerns have also been raised by privacy and racial justice advocates that the technology can be used to profile or harm innocent individuals.”

–Megan Gates from Security Management in the January 2021 issue.

China’s New Data Privacy Law Goes into Effect

“Additionally, the [law] limits the use of facial recognition technology, as a means of protecting personal biometric information. Under the new law, facial biometrics should only be ‘used for specific purposes and only when sufficiently necessary,’ and a risk assessment should be done in advance to make that determination, according to Yue Zhongming, spokesman for the Legislative Affairs Commission of China’s legislature.

“…The [law] does not prevent the People’s Republic of China’s central government from accessing user data and is “closely linked” to the China’s national security interests building upon previous laws.”

–Scott Briscoe from ASIS International in Today in Security, 5 November 2021.

Face Forward: Opportunities and Pitfalls with Facial Recognition

“So, when Don Zoufal, CPP, safety and security executive at CrowZ Nest Consulting, Inc., explained that some airlines are using facial recognition to replace boarding passes, it’s hard not to smile—under the mask, of course—at the irony.

“Zoufal… noted that facial recognition has become increasingly common in combining surveillance with customer experience. Beyond the air travel industry, commercial uses for this technology include timekeeping, certifications, and enhancing customers’ experience for a smoother interaction.”

–Sara Mosqueda from Security Management in the 29 September 2021 edition of the GSX Daily.