Facial recognition leads to 3 arrests at crowded Chinese pop concerts

Police in eastern China have arrested three men at three different concerts by national pop star Jacky Cheung, identifying the suspects in large crowds by using facial recognition technology.

All three men were attending shows by Hong Kong’s “God of Songs,” who has sold more than 25 million records to date. Police have been boasting about the arrests, according to The Wall Street Journal, particularly regarding their use of technology for public safety.

Critics, however, contend that authorities are using the effort as a way to generate public support for government surveillance programs.

The first arrest occurred on April 7 in Nanchang, where a 31-year-old accused of an economic crime was IDed in a crowd of more than 60,000 people. A second suspect was nabbed in Ganzhou on May 5, while a third was spotted through surveillance footage at a show in Jiaxing on Sunday.

In promoting the efforts, state-run media have been calling Cheung “The Nemesis of Fugitives.” Cheung has said the arrests show that “if you’re a crook, you will get nabbed wherever you go.”

Despite the fact that implementations of facial recognition technology have been found to carry race and gender biases, and sometimes carry poor accuracy for law enforcement, police around the world have turned to the technology for a more automated and thorough way of identifying criminals in public. Some projections have called for the market for facial recognition technology to balloon to nearly $7 billion in the next three years.

Beyond public safety and law enforcement, the technology is already commonly used for tasks such as authorizing financial payments, identifying rideshare drivers, or even just simply unlocking your phone.

OWI Insight: The use of facial recognition for law enforcement is here to stay, as police around the world continue to adopt the technology. However, multiple reports have shown that the technology needs significant improvement to prevent false identification. The space will continue to grow, but adoption could be held back by effectiveness, as well as public push back on the fear of a surveillance state.