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Governments, vendors less skittish about promoting facial recognition sales

Governments, vendors less skittish about promoting facial recognition sales

News of Colombia’s decision to buy facial recognition software from a Spanish company for its national police force lacks one point common in virtually all previous announcements by other nations.

There is no explicit mention of how the software, from Herta Security, will be used to find missing and exploited children.

That missing fig leaf, just like others still plucked by governments globally to make more palatable the growing blanket of live surveillance cameras in public spaces, shows how Western attitudes are changing about face recognition algorithms.

According to the Colombia announcement, 80 cameras in a facial recognition network in the city of Medellín. Images captured will be compared against a database of 19,000 faces – people with outstanding arrest warrants and those who could help police in searching for criminals.

The system’s cost has not been disclosed.

Also uncommon is how the announcement of the Rs1.4 billion (US$4.9 million) facial recognition project was handled in Karachi, Pakistan.

That project, called S-4, is supposed to create a net of cameras at 40 toll plazas around the city. All faces and license plates will be recorded.

Government officials have been unusually blunt. S-4 will be good for the city, but its primary purpose is surveilling to prevent crime and terrorism, according to reporting by independent Pakistani newspaper the Dawn.

A large, engraved plaque commemorating the project stands at the first plaza to be updated, Sassui. No one entering or leaving the city, at least on the toll roads linking municipalities, will travel unexamined.

Less typical is the announcement by the CEO of Russian state-owned defense contractor Rostec. NtechLab, a subsidiary of Rostec, installed its face surveillance systems for last year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

In fact, the company says it has assembled networks for 36 nations, according to the Tass news agency, which enjoys an uneven reputation for reliable reporting. It is known that India also has bought and deployed NtechLab facial recognition systems, and the company tells Tass that its software has been deployed to 220 cities in the country.

It is unusual for a vendor – private or public – to unilaterally announce it has sold this equipment to a government buyer.

Of course, sometimes news of government facial recognition projects just leaks.

Investigative journalism on the part of German broadcaster ARD reportedly has found that Bosch sold thousands of cameras to Iran, reportedly before such transactions were frozen due to human rights violations and other actions.

Bosch is a manufacturing conglomerate. Its wares include biometric surveillance infrastructure.

In this case, Bosch reportedly said it sent 8,000 cameras to Tehran between 2016 and 2018, according to the independent anti-regime publication Iran International. The publication was reporting on the ARD report.

According to the Telegraph news site, the theocracy’s ruling clerics use Bosch cameras to find and identify women not wearing a hijab.

If government use of facial recognition becomes more acceptable to electorates, and leaks will likely fade. But if the opposite happens, insiders will find a way to get that news out.

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