Rail Stations to Use Face Recognition Systems

Facial recognition systems are to be installed at three stations on China’s high-speed rail network in order to help catch fugitives, according to Shanghai Daily.

Media reports said yesterday the project’s biding process will start soon. The system will be set up at Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station, Tianjin W. Railway Station and Jinan W. Railway Station.

The equipment will be set up at security check areas in the stations, according to the China Academy of Railway Sciences.

“The quick identification system will enable the police to recognize faces via surveillance cameras and comb criminal databases on computers for the final match,” authorities said.

Researchers added the technology works when people are moving and is helpful even if suspects have had cosmetic surgery.

The South China Morning Post, however, reports that the notice calling for bids on the project was quickly removed, apparently in response to online criticism:

Since the academy pulled the notice, no further details about the project have emerged, including its cost. Attempts to find how why the notice was removed were unsuccessful yesterday, as the academy’s office did not answer phone calls.

Many online commentators responded negatively to the proposed system.

“A government that treats its whole population like suspects is worse than a few criminals on the run,” a Beijing-based commentator wrote on 163.com a major Chinese internet portal ….

In 2006, rail authorities in Beijing set up a still-image face-recognition system at the city’s West Station and they said it helped police catch more than 100 fugitives within the first month.

But the process of scanning each person severely impeded passenger flow, and it is now rarely used.

The new system, if reliable and widely deployed, could be used and abused against other targets. Charles Custer pointed out its potential for identifying kidnapped children (the subject of his forthcoming documentary, Living With Dead Hearts), while Tom of Seeing Red in China warned that the system could aid the interception of petitioners.