The thing most people fear about facial recognition spreading from China
The dark side of facial recognition, long warned about by privacy and human rights advocates, is growing in starker relief. The latest controversy involves Iran, but China is exporting its surveillance products and prowess.
Iran, a fundamentalist theocracy, is using algorithms to identify and arrest women who do not wear a head-covering hijab and anyone protesting strict new edicts requiring women to wear hijabs, according to Thompson Reuters Foundation.
The Guardian has reported that the government’s Headquarters for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice is particularly monitoring the cameras in the country’s public transportation system.
A young woman from the rural northwest of Iran reportedly was arrested in the capital, Tehran, last week for shunning a headscarf.
It is not known if biometric surveillance spotted her, but it is known that she became comatose and died after she was arrested. Local police say they had no role in the incident.
People across the Iran and the globe are protesting the woman’s death and the government policies behind it.
Hijabs have been officially mandatory since a religious coup in 1979 brought the fundamentalists to power. But, until recently, the government and society had bent slightly to women and men resisting modesty laws, which also prohibits women from cutting their hair short.
A woman in Tehran – an IT specialist — is quoted in the Thomson Reuters article saying, “cameras are everywhere and when they catch you, you receive a text message from the police.”
A U.S.-based Iran digital rights advocacy group, Miaan Group, also interviewed by the publisher, backs up the woman’s account. Systems billed as fighting crime are now fighting religious disobedience.
The Iranian government has the infrastructure to see and arrest people based on automated facial recognition algorithm decisions backed by comparisons to biometric ID cards, according to The Guardian newspaper.
The nationwide cards, circulated since 2015, reportedly hold the typical information as well as face, iris and fingerprint scans. The advocacy group Iran Press Watch described the chipped cards last year as also storing health status and religious and ethnic background. The national ID cards are needed for tasks as basic as opening an Internet service account.
Repression through facial recognition seems good business for Iran and its suppliers.
UID an Iranian digital ID and biometrics firm, signed a cooperation agreement with Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces to supply its UID liveness detection authentication platform. The face biometrics solution will aid the agency in its Police Smartening efforts, an ongoing technology overhaul of all units that includes the adoption of intelligence systems and equipment.
Security and surveillance technology IPVM has reported (subscription required and recommended) on direct sales of visual surveillance to reactionary sectors of the Iranian government by one of China’s most successful systems makers.
If, as is generally the case, research levels correlate to technology and product development, China has a global advantage in visual surveillance markets, according to previous Biometric Update reporting.
Tiandy, with 2020 annual sales of $688 million, according to security-industry publisher a&s, reportedly has been involved in multiple projects in Iran. In fact, it might be the only major Chinese maker of visual surveillance products with a physical presence in Iran selling to the government.
The company in November 2021 signed a five-year partnership contract with an Iranian distributor to sell visual surveillance systems, according to IPVM.