BEIJING -- Fixed facial recognition cameras have been in use to fight public toilet paper theft and to catch beer festival-going criminals in China, and now the technology is being mounted onto wearable glasses to eliminate any blind spots for crimes.
Since the beginning of China’s Lunar New Year travel season, police at Zhengzhou East Railway Station have caught seven fugitives in connection with major criminal cases and identified 26 people attempting to travel using other people’s IDs, according to People's Daily, China's official state newspaper.
The station is the first to adopt facial recognition glasses for ID verification. The station, one of the busiest in China, has its own police force. In fact, almost four million people will travel through there throughout the Lunar New Year holiday.
William Nee, a China researcher with Amnesty International, told ABC News this technology may not bode well for human rights in China. "On the one hand, as the Chinese government claims, this technology could indeed potentially help decrease crime at train stations, and improve public safety. On the other hand, the Chinese government could easily use this technology to more effectively clamp down upon people trying to protect their rights – such as petitioners and human rights defenders. There’s already some evidence that human rights defenders and ethnic minorities might be singled out for profiling using facial recognition technology."
Nee added, "Since there are already many surveillance cameras in many parts of China already, this move to equip individual police officers with facial-recognition cameras probably shouldn't be seen as a major shift in policing strategy. However, it could make the surveillance and policing more effective. In the past, if a suspect were identified, it could still take minutes to deploy police to apprehend him or her, but now the time gap could be bridged, as police officers on the ground will now have that capability."
China has been building an ambitious artificial intelligence sector in recent years. In 2017, the country’s public security bureau published a master plan to enhance the police force, including developing smart glasses, helmets and wristbands. The Muslim-majority Xinijang region in the country’s west has been called a police state by critics for its increasingly pervasive surveillance system.
Beijing-based LLVision Technology Co. told ABC News it is the developer behind the glasses used by Zhengzhou railway police. In a publicity video the company published in December on China’s popular messaging platform WeChat, Wu Fei, the company's CEO, claims LLVision Technology is the only one in the world to be working with public security in real-time policing.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the company has a capacity to match faces in a database of 10,000 suspects in as little as 100 milliseconds. The company also develops wearable augmented reality glasses for medical and industrial use, such as remote-monitoring surgical operations.