Concerns over security of personal data have risen in China after a zoo-goer became the first person in the country to file a lawsuit in relation to a dispute over the usage of facial-recognition cameras.
Guo Bing waged war on the country’s ‘Big-Brother’ surveillance system after being required by a safari park to scan his face on security cameras to gain entrance.
The fed-up visitor brought Hangzhou Safari Park to court late last year after being notified that he had to undergo such scrutiny – despite the fact that he had bought an annual ticket when the park had no such requirement.
Surveys have indicated a broad public willingness to surrender some privacy in exchange for the safety and convenience that technology can bring. A recent study revealed that nearly 80 per cent of the respondents expressed concerns over the security of their personal data
China’s 1.4 billion population are set to be carefully watched by 626 million street monitors – many having facial-recognition functions – as early as this year, according to a previous survey
China is fast-expanding its high-tech network of mass surveillance and is on track to have one street camera for nearly every two citizens – or 626 million cameras in total – as early as this year.
Many have also compared it to a dystopian system run by a fictional state leader, Big Brother, in George Orwell’s novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’.
A recent survey revealed that nearly 80 per cent of the respondents expressed concerns over the security of their personal data collected by facial-recognition monitors, according to a report from Xinhua yesterday.
Facial-recognition technology has become embedded everywhere in China, from airports to hotels, e-commerce sites and even public toilets.
Law professor Guo Bing filed the suit against the wildlife park in October to the Fuyang District People’s Court in Hangzhou, raising the temperature in a growing debate about privacy and abuse of personal data in an increasingly digitised society.
A fed-up visitor brought Hangzhou Safari Park to court late last year after being notified that he had to have his face scanned to gain entrance. Pictured, tourists look at a giant panda at the safari park in the provincial capital during the Chinese National Day holiday on October 2, 2018
China’s government has thrown its support behind companies that develop facial recognition and artificial intelligence for commerce and security, part of a drive to become a world leader in advanced technologies.
Surveys have indicated a broad public willingness to surrender some privacy in exchange for the safety and convenience that technology can bring.
But that’s changing as the collection of biometric data such as fingerprints and facial scans mounts.
Public reaction to Guo’s case has exposed fears that technology is outpacing legal safeguards.
Online posts regarding the case on the popular Weibo platform have garnered more than 100 million views, with many users calling for a ban on collecting such data.
The most-surveilled Chinese city, Chongqing, is currently equipped with more than 2.5 million street cameras, or one for every six people. The picture shows cameras on Tiananmen Square
The sentiment stems in part from the rampant abuse of personal data in China, ranging from outright financial fraud to the common leaking of mobile phone numbers to phishing operations.
In a recent article posted online that generated wide discussion in China, Lao Dongyan, a law professor at prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, called abuse of facial recognition data ‘a deal with the devil’.
‘The wanton promotion of facial-recognition technology will open Pandora’s box. The price we pay will be not only our privacy, but also the security we strive for,’ Lao wrote.
China is currently building the world’s largest surveillance system that aims to recognise any of its 1.4 billion citizens within three seconds. The state-led network is set to complete in 2020
Guo, a professor at Zhejiang Sci-Tech University in Hangzhou, said in his civil complaint that collection of data like facial scans, ‘if leaked, illegally provided or abused, will easily endanger consumers’ personal and property safety’.
A hearing date is yet to be announced. Guo could not be reached for comment.
A newspaper published by the Ministry of Science and Technology said the safari park’s ‘rash and rough attitude showed indifference’ to public sensitivities. Laws must be used to prevent ‘overreach’, it added.
The government has thrown its support behind companies that develop artificial intelligence
On December 30, the government issued a directive specifying a range of practices related to the collection and use of personal information via mobile phone apps that it considered to be unlawful.
China still lacks a specific set of laws governing personal data. Legislation is now being formulated, but it remains unclear when it could be introduced.
China is constructing a massive high-tech surveillance state marked by ubiquitous security cameras, which authorities say is necessary to fight crime and ensure public safety.
Devising laws that may infringe on this drive is a delicate matter and unlikely to lead to significant changes, say experts.
‘There could be symbolic moves like setting up a privacy or data protection officer in companies, but nothing substantial,’ said Beijing Normal University law professor Liu Deliang, founder of the Asia-Pacific Institute for Cyber-Law Studies.
Lokman Tsui, a communications professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong, says the government could opt for tough laws that target the abuse of such data, rather than its collection.
‘It would be relatively easy for the government to crack down on the processing or selling of data on the one hand, while still being able to practise government surveillance on the other hand,’ he told AFP.
China is constructing a high-tech surveillance state marked by ubiquitous security cameras
Despite headlines about the brave new Chinese world of high tech, experts say China actually continues to lag far behind the US in advancement but excels in scaling up technologies for wide commercial use.
It has the world’s largest population of mobile internet users — more than 850 million — which operates as a valuable testing ground for consumer viability.
Facial recognition is now used to pay bills, take attendance in some schools, streamline security in public transit and punish jaywalkers.
Restrooms at some tourist attractions even require a facial scan in order to receive toilet paper to curb over-consumption.
But the China Consumers Association in November 2018 released a report stating that more than 90 percent of mobile apps were suspected of excessively collecting personal information, and 10 percent excessively amassing biometric data.
Concerns have grown after recent state media reports said thousands of pieces of facial data were sold online for as little as 10 yuan ($1.40) each, and after the government last month began implementing a new requirement that consumers provide a facial scan to register for mobile phone services.
HOW DOES FACIAL RECOGNITION TECHNOLOGY WORK?
Facial recognition software works by matching real time images to a previous photograph of a person.
Each face has approximately 80 unique nodal points across the eyes, nose, cheeks and mouth which distinguish one person from another.
A digital video camera measures the distance between various points on the human face, such as the width of the nose, depth of the eye sockets, distance between the eyes and shape of the jawline.
A different smart surveillance system (pictured) can scan 2 billion faces within seconds has been revealed in China. The system connects to millions of CCTV cameras and uses artificial intelligence to pick out targets. The military is working on applying a similar version of this with AI to track people across the country
This produces a unique numerical code that can then be linked with a matching code gleaned from a previous photograph.
A facial recognition system used by officials in China connects to millions of CCTV cameras and uses artificial intelligence to pick out targets.
Experts believe that facial recognition technology will soon overtake fingerprint technology as the most effective way to identify people.
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