20 July 2019
Chinese police and security personnel are said to be testing smart glasses as part of surveillance measures and efforts to nab potential trouble makers. Photo: Reuters
Chinese police and security personnel are said to be testing smart glasses as part of surveillance measures and efforts to nab potential trouble makers. Photo: Reuters

China police testing AI-powered glasses as new security tool

Chinese police are said to be testing artificial intelligence (AI)-powered smart glasses as they stepped up security and surveillance measures amid the parliament session in Beijing. 

At a highway checkpoint on the outskirts of Beijing, police are testing out glasses that can pick up facial features and car registration plates, and match them in real-time with a database of suspects, Reuters reports.

The AI-powered glasses scan the faces of vehicle occupants and the plates, flagging with a red box and warning sign to the wearer when any match up with a centralized “blacklist”, the report said.

The test, which coincides with the National People’s Congress session in central Beijing, underscores a major push by China’s leaders to leverage technology to boost security in the country.

That drive has led to growing concerns that China is developing a sophisticated surveillance state that will lead to intensifying crackdowns on dissent, Reuters noted.

Wu Fei, chief executive of LLVision, which manufactures the smart glasses being tested by the police, said people should not be worried about privacy concerns because authorities are using the equipment only to catch suspects and fugitives from the law.

“We trust the government,” Wu told Reuters at the company’s headquarters in Beijing.

Reuters said it was able to verify that the glasses were being used in tests by the police to help identify suspect individuals and vehicles in the Beijing area in recent days.

China, under President Xi Jinping, is making a major push to use AI, facial recognition and big data technology to track and control behavior that goes against the interests of the ruling Communist Party online and in the wider world.

Delegates and visitors entering the Great Hall of the People for the NPC session have to go through facial scanners.

The same happened to those attending the related advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

“This year, security at the two sessions has some freshly-baked ‘black tech’ coming online,” wrote the state-run Science and Technology Daily newspaper, using a comic-book term in China for futuristic surveillance gadgets.

The paper said cameras at the event had been upgraded to capture, analyze and compare suspicious faces in around two seconds, powered by a system called “Skynet” – which has a national database of blacklisted individuals.

China has been deploying a growing arsenal of security technology, fuelling the growth of a domestic industry and worrying civil rights defenders about the growing intrusion on individual privacy.

A key concern is that blacklists could include a wide range of people stretching from lawyers and artists to political dissidents, charity workers, journalists and rights activists.

The new technologies range from police robots for crowd control, to drones to monitor border areas, and artificially intelligent systems to track and censor behavior online.

There are also scanners to forcibly read mobile phone data and even police dogs with virtual reality cameras.

A recent Human Rights Watch report said China is also expanding a biometric voice database to boost voice recognition capabilities.

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