Global restrictions on facial recognition speed up development of new biometric surveillance tech

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The high number of concerns and controversies around government use of facial recognition technology in surveillance and lack of proper regulation has led to new research on how other biometric features such as gait, microbiome, heartbeat, indoor movement and odor can be used for mass surveillance. According to Wired, researchers have already developed lasers that detect heartbeat and microbiome, while more invasive technology will soon follow.

China, for example, is already testing gait recognition to monitor its citizens. As Biometric Update reported, the government partnered with Chinese startup Watrix and already deployed the technology for testing by police in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chongqing. The company’s biometric software supports real-time identification for mega-city deployments. The software analyzes video surveillance footage to detect a person’s movement during walking and claims to have 94 percent accuracy.

According to the patent, the software is “based on deep learning, which comprises recognizing an identity of a person in a video according to the gait thereof through dual-channel convolutional neural networks sharing weights by means of the strong learning capability of the deep learning convolutional neural network.”

A recent report by The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) says the Chinese government widely deploys AI, biometric technology and surveillance cameras to persecute and keep an eye on religious communities in the region such as Uighur Muslims or Tibetan Buddhists.

“We are deeply disturbed by the Chinese government’s misuse of technology to create a dystopian surveillance state, one that particularly targets religious communities,” said USCIRF Commissioner Gary Bauer. “We urge the U.S. government and American businesses to take steps to ensure that American technological advances are not being used by Chinese authorities to suppress religious freedom and related human rights.”

The technology developed by Watrix identifies people in any environment, including in crowds or streets, and could turn into a feasible substitute for facial recognition. A high number of cameras currently collect both biometrics to use as one for heightened accuracy.

The U.S. is also working on developing new technology. A few months ago, the Pentagon released information on a laser-based system that uses laser doppler vibrometry to identify a person based on her or his heartbeat.

In 2018, researchers from the University of California developed an app that used Wi-Fi networks to remotely detect presence and movement inside a room.

“With more than two Wi-Fi devices in a regular room, our attack can detect more than 99 per cent of user presence and movement in each room tested,” the researchers claim.

Other researchers claim they can use Wi-Fi to identify emotional states and behavior patterns.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has joined forces with the University of Nevada, Reno’s Reynolds School of Journalism to identify the surveillance technologies purchased so far by law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and used specifically around the U.S.-Mexico border.

According to the research carried out during the spring and summer of 2019, 225 data points were identified in 23 border-facing counties in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Some 36 local agencies have automated license plate readers (ALPR), 45 officers were found equipped with body-worn cameras and 20 flying drones, while 31 law enforcement agencies in San Diego County, California use facial recognition technology. A sheriff’s office in New Mexico purchased eyewear with face recognition cameras, while a number of counties in New Mexico and Texas have equipped their jails with iris scanners.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation claims local agencies use a federal program called Operation Stonegarden to purchase surveillance technology.

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