Chinese authorities have begun using glasses and sunglasses equipped with facial recognition technology in order to sort through crowds during the packed Lunar New Year holiday. These glasses and other devices with similar technology are already helping to track down fugitives and combat jaywalking, among other uses. During the Lunar New Year, Chinese police will be using the devices to scan crowds for fugitives and fraudsters, as well as to verify identities. By building up a nationwide database of Chinese citizens, the police are able to quickly identify culprits in witnessed crimes, find missing people, and verify that travelers are who their papers say they are, at least in theory. The technology should also help Chinese authorities get critical evidence in places where fixed cameras may not be set up.
The facial recognition technology being used here is made possible by a number of factors, including a vast reduction of the processing power necessary for the computer vision AI behind such solutions. The devices are made by LLVision Technology Co., and are unique in that they use on-board AI in conjunction with a separate storage solution that's wired up directly to the glasses, and has an offline database inside it. This database is kept up to date through regular link-ups with compatible online devices, but does not have to connect to the internet itself, negating the need for authorities to connect before being able to get a facial lock, and even enabling police to use the glasses in places like subways where they would normally have issues due to a lack of signal.
Critics of this new move, including Amnesty International researcher William Nee, say that it could serve to simply expand the already pervasive surveillance state established in China. Essentially, with this technology, Chinese authorities, as well as anybody that they're willing to share information with, will know exactly where any person is and what they're doing at any time. The erosion of privacy facing Chinese citizens, as with most similar matters, is a double-edged sword. The manufacture and sale of the technology is bolstering China's tech market and overall economy, and conveniences made possible by such systems are already enriching the lives of Chinese citizens. This echoes concerns worldwide that the vast expansion and evolution of consumer-facing technology could have grim implications for personal privacy in the not too distant future.