Chinese police have recently used facial recognition technology to catch an escaped criminal who was traveling to Wuzhen, a scenic tourist town near Hangzhou.

In November 2016, Wuzhen started installing Baidu-made face-recognition cameras across the town to identify tourists staying in its hotels. The data collected will then serve as entry pass through face scanner-equipped gates to the town’s various attractions.

Wuzhen, a historic water town, has metamorphosed into the so-called “Internet Town” after becoming the permanent venue for the World Internet Conference (WIC) in December 2015. The summit is held annually by the nation’s cyberspace government agencies to discuss internet related issues and policy.

“As the permanent venue for WIC, security is especially important for the town. As such we have expanded the range and density of video surveillance, enhanced its network and tightened its management,” a local cop told China News.

The Chinese government is building a national security system that could use surveillance cameras to “identify any one of its 1.3 billion citizens within three seconds”, with at least 88% accuracy, South China Morning Post recently reported.

A similar security system has been operating at a smaller scale, such as the Wuzhen project. Facial recognition has also been deployed for commercial use in China. Alipay, for example, is piloting its facial recognition technology to help customers at a Hangzhou KFC branch order food: The camera in the KFC will check customers’ faces against the ID card photos linked to their Alipay accounts, Ant Financial told TechNode.

Airports around the world have used facial recognition for security checks but operate on a different setup. At an airport, travelers present their passports, from which the software will determine whether the person standing in front of the camera matches the identity. China’s surveillance system, however, searches a large database for the face presented to the camera. Compiling such a big database, many worry, will inevitably lead to privacy concerns down the road.

rita liao

Rita Liao

Telling the uncommon China stories through tech. I can be reached at ritacyliao [at] gmail [dot] com.

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