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Expansive facial recognition surveillance coming to Hong Kong, Bahrain, South Africa

Geolocation and biometrics combined to find missing Ukrainian children
Expansive facial recognition surveillance coming to Hong Kong, Bahrain, South Africa

The use of facial recognition technology for law enforcement has proven controversial, but not enough to deter authorities around the globe from implementing new FRT schemes to tighten security and fight crime.

HK police install 2,000 CCTV cameras, look to add 1000s more

The South China Morning Post reports that in Hong Kong, the Commissioner of Police is promising to draft guidelines for the use of personal information collected by a soon-to-be-installed network of 2,000 CCTV cameras. Commissioner Raymond Siu Chak-yee says the use of facial recognition will not be ruled out for a subset of cases that is still being defined, but that “citizens do not have to worry,” because the police will use the technology lawfully.

In Siu’s view, the 2,000 cameras to be installed in 2024 are insufficient for surveillance in a place as densely populated as Hong Kong. He anticipates many more will be added, pointing to as a comparison to Singapore, which has 90,000 operational CCTV cameras.

The police’s confident assurances aside, policy experts say the introduction of facial recognition deployed for law enforcement in public places needs a set of guidelines and policies that can be put in place on the same timeline. The SCMP quotes lawmaker Doreen Kong Yuk-foon, who expresses concern about the risk that AI tech will come into wide use before appropriate legislation can come into effect.

“Most importantly, the government needs clear guidelines on the purpose, usage and storage duration of the data collected, while improving its data security systems,” Kong says. Others have called for the encryption and prompt deletion of facial data collected by the network.

Gulf nation seeks ace biometrics providers, wants no scrubs

Bahrain, which has embraced digital ID, is also considering facial recognition as a way to crack down on crime. Zawya reports that government officials for the island nation in the Persian Gulf have approved a proposal for FRT, which now awaits review by the Interior Minister while officials calculate the estimated costs of deployment. The proposal seeks top biometrics providers who can set up testing at airports, ports and other immigration checkpoints, and link their database with government entities.

“We are not looking for cheap providers,” says Abdulla Abdullatif, chair of the Southern Municipal Council, in encouraging established biometrics and facial recognition providers to bid on the contract. “We want a system that’s responsible and at the same time effective, something that is similar to the technology highlighted in the popular American television series Person of Interest a few years ago.”

While a complex system for predicting terrorist events is a tall ambition, other council members have proposed a pilot that scans a public roadway for traffic violations.

South African province launches surveillance camera network

Gauteng, South Africa has launched a network of nearly 7,000 surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition software in an effort to reduce crime, local publication Briefly reports.

The network was unveiled by Premier Panyaza Lesufi, with cameras located in townships, suburbs, informal settlements and hostels. The outlet reports a mixed reaction from locals. Lesufi previously suggested he would put a camera with facial recognition on every street, plus 500 drones in the air.

A business in Gauteng introduced a biometric offering to reduce car-jackings late last year.

Hackathon yields FRT to locate Ukrainian kids abducted by Russia

The use of facial recognition by law enforcement is often interrogated in terms of security crackdowns, but a story from the NL Times offers a glimpse at how the technology can aid in finding missing persons. During a hackathon organized by Dutch police and Europol, participating investigators used satellite images, advanced facial recognition, and geolocation to successfully find eight kids who have been displaced or exploited for Russian propaganda purposes.

Speaking to Dutch news outlet AD, Vincent Cillessen of the Dutch police’s International Crimes Team says the expectation was that the hackathon would be a useful way to exchange knowledge, but that the gathering of experts soon figured out a pathway to a practical solution.

“We are working with colleagues in Ukraine, and it is now up to the police there to share information with family members and start a criminal investigation into the possible perpetrators,” Cillesen says, adding that he hopes Ukrainian authorities can use the data to help get the children back.

Russia has abducted and deported an estimated 20,000 kids since its invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022.

This post was updated at 11:11am Eastern on February 13, 2024 to include the Gauteng project.

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