Beijing Metro to install facial recognition, traveler-ranking system

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The city of Beijing plans to install facial recognition cameras at all metro stations for the purpose of monitoring and classifying passengers into “safety” categories.

The plan drew widespread criticism for its Orwellian intentions, including from a professor at a prominent Chinese university.

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China’s state-run media Xinhua News Agency reported Oct. 30 that Beijing’s metro operator will install a facial recognition system that’s integrated with the country’s social credit system, in which citizens are assigned a “trustworthiness” score based on their public behavior. After passengers are sorted into categories based on their score, station staff will conduct security check procedures accordingly.

Trustworthy passengers are placed on a “whitelist” and will be directed to an express lane to bypass security checks. Other passengers will have to go through complicated checks. The metro company said that this system is designed to speed up the security checking process at its stations.

Since 2008, most metro systems in major Chinese cities have strict security checks on all passengers and their bags.

Since 2014, metro companies have deployed a “checks on humans and materials” system, in which all passengers must go through airport style body-scanning machines and luggage and bags need to pass through screening machines.

Pregnant women, children less than about 4 feet tall and the disabled who can’t easily go through the machines will need to be checked by security agents before entering the station.

The security checks usually cause long lines at major metro stations in big cities. State-run media Beijing News reported that during peak travel time, passengers in Beijing typically have to wait about 15 minutes to pass through security and enter a station.

During politically sensitive periods, such as when the Chinese Communist Party convened its once-in-five-years National Congress in October 2017, Beijing metro stations stepped up security measures, leading to waiting times of up to 60 minutes at peak times.

People’s Concerns

Lao Dongyan, a professor at Tsinghua University Law School, expressed concern about the new plan by posting a long commentary on her WeChat account. WeChat is China’s most popular social media platform.

“(The CCP government) has collected a lot of personal data already, including what websites you’ve browsed, what news and videos you’ve watched, what goods you’ve purchased, who you chatted with on WeChat, your likes and dislikes,” Lao said on WeChat, Thursday, Oct. 31.

Lao added that there are privacy concerns with who gets access to citizens’ personal data.

“We don’t know how they will use our data and how they will control our lives. Furthermore, hackers may steal our data and the data may be leaked due to improper protection,” Lao said.

As a legal expert, Lao said that one’s facial pattern is considered important biometric data. Thus, she said, the government doesn’t have the right to collect that data without first obtaining permission from the person.

“Who gives the transportation department (Beijing metro company) the right to classify passengers? According to what law are they allowed to do this? Which kind of standard will they use to sort passengers?” Lao said, questioning the legality of the planned system.

Lao also said she doesn’t think the system can speed up security checks at metro stations.

“My personal experiences of checking in at hotels and airplanes tells me that (a facial recognition system) can barely (speed up the checking process),” Lao said.

She said she is most concerned about authorities misusing the data.

“If they misuse the data, I don’t know what my family and I will lose. It could be wealth, reputation, our jobs, freedoms, health and even our lives,” Lao said.

Reprinted with permission from The Epoch Times.