Man accused of murdering father arrested 19 years later using facial recognition software

Police say they tracked down suspect in northwest China using the technology

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 October, 2018, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 October, 2018, 11:42pm

A man who is accused of murdering his father 19 years ago was tracked down and arrested in northwest China using facial recognition technology, according to local police.

Officers followed a lead from a Shaanxi province special task force who had spotted a man matching the suspect’s description using the software, the Luonan Guchengzhen police department said on its official Weibo account.

The 44-year-old man was arrested in Heyang county, three hours away from his hometown.

China is widely considered to be leading the way in facial recognition technology, and has been developing a system with the aim of being able to match faces to a database of 1.3 billion ID photos with 90 per cent accuracy.

The man is accused of murdering his father with a rock in 1999 after an argument, police said. He confessed to the crime, telling police he had been defending his mother from his abusive father, according to the statement.

The man, who is being held by the Luonan Public Security Bureau, has been in hiding since then, changing his name three times after marrying three different women, local newspaper Huashang Daily reported on Sunday.

It is not the first time Chinese police have used facial recognition technology to help track down a fugitive who had been on the run for years. In May, a man who had lost a legal dispute a decade ago and failed to clear his debts was apprehended and fined at a gems expo in central Hunan province – just one of 65 fugitives identified at the show using the technology.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong Canto-pop star Jacky Cheung has developed an unlikely association with crime-fighting – more than 20 people have so far been arrested at his concerts on mainland China after being identified with the help of facial recognition software.

The technology is also being used to identify and shame jaywalkers and traffic violators in Shenzhen, with their surnames, ID numbers and blurred photos posted online by the authorities.

But China has also been criticised by human rights activists for using facial recognition technology for surveillance in the western region of Xinjiang, where Beijing is cracking down on the Muslim Uygur minority. The Chinese government blames Uygur separatist groups for unrest in the region and claims mass surveillance is needed for internal security.

China has also started exporting its facial recognition technology, with Malaysian police being one of its main adopters, using it to identify criminals.