ZHENGZHOU: In the Chinese city of Zhengzhou, a police officer wearing facial recognition glasses spotted a heroin smuggler at a train station. In Qingdao, a city famous for its German colonial heritage, cameras powered by artificial intelligence helped police snatch two dozen criminal suspects in the midst of a big annual beer festival. In Wuhu, a fugitive murder suspect was identified by a camera as he bought food from a street vendor. With millions of cameras and billions of lines of code, China is building a high-tech authoritarian future. Beijing is embracing technologies like facial recognition and artificial intelligence to identify and track 1.4 billion people. It wants to assemble a vast and unprecedented national surveillance system, with crucial help from its thriving technology industry.
Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society. 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.
As lawmakers, citizens, and company's debate the use of facial recognition software in the U.S., tech giants in America and China have been busy hawking products to eager surveillance states abroad. Among the burgeoning markets, according to a report by Buzzfeed News, are monarchies in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), particularly in Dubai, where political leaders have often jailed citizens and journalists that they deem to be political dissidents. Critics of the UAE include Human Rights Watch (HRW) who has frequently derided the country for its authoritarian tendencies. Private companies like IBM are looking to governments accused of violating human rights as a market for facial recognition software. 'UAE authorities have launched a sustained assault on freedom of expression and association since 2011,' says HRW in its analysis.