Is nowhere private? Chinese subway users upset by plans to install facial recognition systems

  • Guangzhou’s metro operator will open one security channel fitted with new technology in each of four stations across the city on Friday
  • Commuters must preregister using smartphone app, company says
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2018, 8:10pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2018, 11:23pm

Facial recognition systems will be introduced on Friday at four subway stations in a south China city in a bid to speed up security checks, officials said, while internet users complained of yet another breach of their privacy.

The technology will be used in just one security channel at each of the four stations in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, the city’s metro operator said on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service.

To use the new channels, passengers must first register their details, including a photograph, using the Guangzhou Metro’s official smartphone app.

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“The registration process is voluntary,” the company said. “[And] information collected will be used only for security checks and not be passed on to our partner companies.”

Once registered, passengers will be able to use the dedicated channels and the system will recognise them from the information they registered, it said.

The metro operator said it had been working with a number of local technology companies on the project and would also be introducing new luggage scanners.

The new hi-tech systems would operate alongside traditional security methods, it said.

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News of the facial recognition systems caused upset on social media.

“I need to register on your app with my real name, just to get through a security check? Is there any privacy left at all?” a person wrote on Weibo.

“Looks like I will be running late during the morning rush hour from now on,” wrote another.

The metro operator said if the new systems proved successful, the technology would be rolled out across the city’s network.

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Facial recognition systems have been used extensively by the Chinese authorities for security purposes, from surveillance to spotting jaywalkers in big cities. They are also by companies in the fields of retail, travel and banking, and have stirred heated debates on the subject of personal privacy.

Earlier this month, facial recognition helped police to capture a fugitive wanted in a murder investigation who had been on the run for 19 years. In September, police in Sichuan province used it to arrest a dozen fugitives at concerts held by Hong Kong Canto-pop star Jacky Cheung.