China: facial recognition and state control | The Economist


Improving lives,… …increasing connectivity across the world. That’s the great promise
offered by data-driven technology. [Protests] But in China, it also promises
greater state control and abuse of power. [Protests] This is the next groundbreaking development
in data driven technology:… …facial recognition. And in China
you can already withdraw cash,… …check-in at airports,… …and pay for goods,
using just your face. The country is the world’s leader
in the use of this emerging technology. And China’s many
artificial intelligence startups… …are determined
to keep it that way in the future. Companies like YITU. We’re pioneering… …Artificial Intelligence research and innovation,… …in the hope of creating
a safer, faster, and healthier world. [Chinese] YITU is creating the building blocks
for a smart city of the future,… …where facial recognition
is part of everyday life. This could even extend to detecting
what people are thinking. Facial recognition:
they can read people’s emotions,… …and we are actually now working
on these innovative demonstrations and technology. But the Chinese government has plans
to use this new biometric technology… …to cement its authoritarian rule. The country has ambitious plans
to develop a vast national surveillance system,… …based on facial recognition. It’ll be used to monitor
its 1.4 billion citizens… …in unprecedented ways. With the capability of tracking everything,
from their emotions… to their sexuality. The primary means
will be a vast network of CCTV cameras. A 170 million are already in place,… …and an estimated 400 million new ones
will be installed over the next three years. The authorities insist this program
will allow them to improve security for citizens,… …and if you have nothing to hide,
you have nothing to fear. But not everyone is convinced. [Chinese] Hongshen Kwai is a former magazine editor. He was ousted by the government. He feels like he’s under constant surveillance. [Chinese] Already the authorities are using facial recognition
to name and shame citizens. Even for minor offenses,
like jaywalking. In Beijing,… …they’re using the technology
to prevent people… …stealing rolls of loo paper
from public toilets. And across China, police officers
are now trialing sunglasses and body cameras,… …loaded with facial and gesture
recognition technology. It’s helping them to identify
wanted suspects in real-time. What worries some people here… …is that, as the technology develops,
so too does the capacity for it to be abused. [Chinese] Some of those most at risk
in this hyper-surveillance future… …are the ethnic minorities in China. In Xinjiang province, the Chinese government
is wary of the separatist threat… …posed by the Muslim Uyghur population. According to local NGOs,… …an estimated 1 million Uyghurs… …are being detained indefinitely
in secretive internment camps,… …where some are being subject to abuse. It’s been called the largest mass incarceration
of a minority population in the world today. The authorities are using facial recognition cameras
to scan people’s faces before they enter markets. The system alerts authorities if targeted individuals stray 300 meters beyond their home. In the future, the government plans
to aggregate even more data,… …and build a predictive policing programme… …that imposes even tighter controls here. Without checks and balances,… …China will keep finding new ways
to violate the human rights of its citizens. What’s already happening in Xinjiang
is a warning the rest of the world must heed.

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