Hong Kong police facial recognition contract with iOmniscient reported by Bloomberg
As protests continue to be held in Hong Kong against recent government actions, Bloomberg reports that Sydney-based iOmniscient is supplying local police with biometric facial recognition technology, and has been for at least three years.
The artificial intelligence technology can be used for tracking criminals, finding lost children, and managing traffic, but it is unclear if it is being used to identify protestors, Bloomberg’s sources say. Demonstrators have worn masks, with many continuing to do so following a ban on wearing them in public. At least 90 people have been arrested for violating the ban so far.
Protestors have also destroyed CCTV cameras and ‘smart lampposts,’ and used umbrellas to hide identities and actions. The ban on face masks was the first of its kind in the region in half a century, and triggered increased violence, Bloomberg reports.
“Why are people still wearing face masks?” asked District Councillor and former Civil Human Rights Front leader Bonnie Leung, before answering: “Because of the police surveillance.”
Hong Kong Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip said in June that automated facial recognition for CCTV systems had not been procured or developed by any government department, though the government has not commented on the technology’s use since.
Asked for comment on the use of its technology by Honk Kong police, iOmniscient declined. The company does say that its technology can be used without identifying individuals for applications such as crowd control, that it is used in more than 50 countries, and that only a small portion of its revenue comes from Hong Kong. The company says Hong Kong has fewer cameras in operation than other cities.
Hong Kong ranked number 26 among the world’s most surveilled cities in a recent report from Comparitech.
Hong Kong’s privacy laws are significantly more stringent than those in mainland China, according to Bloomberg, and require members of the public to be informed if targeted by government surveillance. Police can be exempted from the law, however, if they are attempting to detect or prevent crime.
During the protests, police have been observed with their ID numbers removed or wearing masks to hide their own identities.
Hong Kong company TickTack Technology has reportedly withdrew from the smart lamppost program after a Bluetooth Beacon used by the company was found in a lamppost pulled down by protestors, though the government denies the lampposts have facial recognition capabilities.
A spin-off of iOmniscient, Wildfaces Technology, is providing video analytics to Hong Kong’s Correctional Services Department to monitor inmates for a “smart prison” project, according to a recent report.