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Facial biometrics and smart city technology rise in Asia gets new incentive from pandemic

Facial biometrics and smart city technology rise in Asia gets new incentive from pandemic

Facial recognition and other smart city technologies could be rolled out more quickly in Japan over the coming months, after the country’s parliament approved an update to existing legislation to reduce regulatory burdens and complexity, Cities Today reports.

The bill to amend the National Strategic Special Zones Law support’s Japan’s Super City vision, which is based on a centralized data-sharing platform, or ‘city operating system.’ The amendment was brought forward last year, but sent for revision before its recent approval. Japan has also made related legal changes that could speed contribute to the adoption of smart city services, such as telemedicine, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The change to the law allows municipalities to submit plans they can prove have the backing of residents to the national government, where the Cabinet Office would work with the relevant government agencies to fast-track the process and secure any regulatory exceptions required. The government hopes that by facilitating the adoption of artificial intelligence, big data, and other advanced technologies, urban mobility, disaster preparedness, healthcare and education can be improved.

In addition to biometrics facial recognition for access control, cashless payments, autonomous vehicles, localized energy models and remote health care are specifically mentioned in the report.

Submissions have already been received from 51 local authorities, and the national government is expected to choose around 5 to go ahead later this year.

Help with contact tracing has become a selling point for smart city systems, Nikkei Asian Review writes, based on a Nomura Research Institute study that shows there are now 350 smart city projects in development across roughly 40 cities in South and Southeast Asia.

Singapore’s system, which leverages facial recognition and transit records to trace the movements of COVID-19 patients, is one example. Alibaba offers an app which restricts access to some buildings for those who are assessed to have a high risk of exposure to the virus. The company has also deployed mask detection technology in several cities in China.

Residents in Singapore seem less comfortable with the idea of wearables for contract tracing, ZDNet reports, with an online petition against the measure gaining more than 35,000 signatures.

Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan, who leads the island state’s Smart Nation Initiative, said the wearable device is necessary as it does not require smartphone ownership, as the TraceTogether app does, and the app has also been less effective on Apple devices, which stop running Bluetooth when the app is running in the background.

The authors of the petition, however, state that the wearable is a blatent infringement on “rights to privacy, personal space, and freedom of movement.”

“All that is stopping the Singapore government from becoming a surveillance state is the advent and mandating the compulsory usage of such a wearable device. What comes next would be laws that state these devices must not be turned off [or] remain on a person at all times — thus, sealing our fate as a police state,” the petition reads.

The government said the devices could be distributed to every person in Singapore if they are proven effective, but has not said the wearable would be mandatory.

Petition author William Low said having some people wearing it and others not is also unacceptable, as it would create a two-tiered society.

Balakrishnan suggested the wearable would be less invasive than the smartphone and facial recognition system currently in use.

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