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Face biometrics privacy lawsuit goes ahead in China as police deploy emotion recognition for criminal ID


The popularity of facial recognition in China may be reaching a tipping point, as nascent privacy concerns have blossomed into legal action, and dubious applications are deployed.

At the China Public Security expo in Shenzhen, emotion recognition is the hot new technology, being deployed to predict crime and identify criminals from their facial expressions, the Financial Times reports.

Research conducted by the Association for Psychological Science suggests that emotion detection based on facial biometrics is not a reliable indicator of how a person is feeling, let alone what actions they have taken in the past, or will in the future. That has not kept it from being rolled out by law enforcement.

“Using video footage, emotion recognition technology can rapidly identify criminal suspects by analysing their mental state . . . to prevent illegal acts including terrorism and smuggling,” Li Xiaoyu, a policing expert and party cadre from Altay, Xinjiang’s public security bureau told FT. “We’ve already started using it.”

FT reports it is also being implemented at airports and subway stations.

Asked by FT about the technology, influential Beijing-based tech blogger Ge Jia declared emotion recognition is “still a bit of a gimmick and is unlikely to be rolled out on a large scale in the next 3-5 years.” A Baidu representative told FT that the technology is currently only used by a few public security bureaus and schools.

A Chinese university professor, meanwhile, is suing a wildlife park for forcing him to be scanned for biometric facial recognition for park entry, objecting on privacy and data security grounds, The Guardian reports.

The Hangzhou safari park switched from fingerprint biometrics to facial recognition for its entry system, and in what several Chinese outlets report is a first, Professor Guo Bing has filed suit against it, which has been accepted in a Fuyang court. Guo expressed doubts over the necessity of the park collecting the data, and its data security practices and responsibilities. He is demanding that the fee he paid for an annual pass be returned, and information on the data collected.

The fingerprint entry system had suffered from malfunctions which led to long lineups. When the park announced those who did not register their facial biometrics by October 17 would have their passes canceled, the professor attempted to cancel his annual pass, but the park refused to refund the full cost.

“China’s use of facial recognition, across the board, without any notice or consent, is appalling,” says Ann Cavoukian, executive director at the Global Privacy and Security by Design Centre. “I sincerely hope there will be more resistance to such surveillance, but I doubt it will have much effect in China.”

For his part, Guo is not against facial recognition in principle.

“I think it is OK and, to some extent, necessary for government agencies, especially police departments, to implement this technology, because it helps to maintain public security,” he told the Beijing News, according to FT. “But it’s still worth discussing when it comes to the legitimacy and legality of using the technology.”

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