Face-recognition systems bound for train stations

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2012, 12:00am


In a notice briefly posted online, rail authorities said they planned to install face-recognition systems at three major stations on the high-speed line between Beijing and Shanghai to help police identify wanted fugitives, mainland media reported.

But the notice, reportedly posted on Wednesday on the railway ministry's China Academy of Railway Sciences website, was removed after it gave rise to privacy concerns among the public.

The Beijing Morning Post said the notice called for bids for the project, which would feature the installation of the controversial equipment at security checkpoints in Shanghai's Hongqiao Railway Station, at West Station in Tianjin and at the West Station in Jinan in Shandong province.

The bidding was scheduled to begin this Friday, China National Radio reported.

Linked to the Ministry of Public Security's database, the system would be used to assist in large-scale manhunts, the reports said.

Since the academy pulled the notice, no further details about the project have emerged, including its cost. Attempts to find how why the notice was removed were unsuccessful yesterday, as the academy's office did not answer phone calls.

Many online commentators responded negatively to the proposed system.

'A government that treats its whole population like suspects is worse than a few criminals on the run,' a Beijing-based commentator wrote on 163.com, a major Chinese internet portal.

Another commentator, from Hubei province, who opposed the system said: 'It is sensitive technology to be used at a sensitive time on some sensitive individuals.'

It was unknown whether the system would use still images or video.

Still-image systems, such as face scanners used at Heathrow Airport in London, require people to stand in front of a camera for a few seconds.

But more advanced technology would allow the authorities to identify certain faces from real-time video feeds collected by surveillance cameras.

Still images have been widely used, including at mainland airports, for years.

But the much larger passenger flows seen at train stations require more advanced video technology to scan many people at once.

In 2006, rail authorities in Beijing set up a still-image face-recognition system at the city's West Station and they said it helped police catch more than 100 fugitives within the first month.

But the process of scanning each person severely impeded passenger flow, and it is now rarely used.

In recent years, however, several mainland companies and research institutes have claimed to have made breakthroughs in the technology.

A Shenzhen company, ZTE NetView Technology, sold a system to the high-speed train station in Wuhan , Hubei, at the end of last year. It could supposedly capture each passenger's face and compare it with police data.


Number of photographs in the facial recognition database that the US Department of State uses for processing visas