Future Tense

Chinese Police Are Using Facial Recognition Tech to Catch Fugitives at Concerts

Police have arrested three fugitives at singer Jacky Cheung's concerts over the past two months.
Police have arrested three fugitives at singer Jacky Cheung’s concerts over the past two months. STR/AFP/Getty Images

Police in China have nabbed three fugitives using facial-recognition technology at a series of concerts in Eastern China, the Wall Street Journal reports. Police have employed the surveillance tool over the past two months at performances by Hong Kong pop star Jacky Cheung, also known by his nicknames “God of Songs” and, more recently, “The Nemesis of Fugitives.”

In one case, police were able to use a facial-recognition system to identify a 31-year-old man in a crowd of 60,000 concertgoers, according to state media. In another, the technology recognized a man who allegedly failed to pay for $17,000 worth of potatoes in 2015 and had since then been living under a pseudonym. The Jianxing police claim that the man had been identified within minutes after passing through security, and the department in fact posted footage and pictures from that arrest on social media.

China has been aggressively integrating facial recognition tools into its law enforcement tactics in 16 population centers across the country. Zhengzhou police began wearing sunglasses equipped with the technology in February. In Xinjiang, a western territory home to the Muslim Uyghur minority, citizens are required to check in with facial scanners when they visit bazaars, malls, and gas stations. And aside from police use, a high school in Hangzhou is installing facial recognition cameras over blackboards that notify teachers if a student seems distracted.

State media claims that the technology is accurate 99.8 percent of the time, though police departments would not answer the Wall Street Journal’s questions about possible flaws in the system. The facial recognition systems that authorities use in the U.K. was alleged by a civil liberties group to be inaccurate in 98 percent of cases.

Advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch having been flagging China’s use of facial recognition systems as a flagrant abuse of its citizens’ privacy. Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Chris Smith sent a letter to the Commerce Department to more tightly regulate U.S. companies that allegedly sell surveillance technology to the Chinese government. They wrote that the Xinjiang case is “a clear example of how the government is using technology, including U.S. made, to systematically crackdown on its people.”