China is going into facial recognition overdrive
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China is going into facial recognition overdrive

FACIAL RECOGNITION is theoretically a very useful technology.

However, its success depends on several factors such as the algorithm, the database used to train the algorithm, and the hardware used for the implementation.

Recently, reports such as the one that claimed that the Welsh police facial recognition software had a 92 percent fail rate incited fear and mistrust in the technology. But in technologically-advanced countries like China and the US, facial recognition is seen as a useful tool to improve certain processes.

SEE ALSO: Facial recognition becoming commonplace at China’s airports

Most recently, Shanghai’s Hongqiao International Airport said it has made significant investments in the technology. Specifically, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China, it now boasts of self-service kiosks for flight and baggage check-in, security clearance, and boarding, all powered by facial recognition.

Introduced this week on Monday, the system scans passengers’ ID cards and faces to ensure that they match and reportedly reduces clearance time to just 12 seconds.


Chinese ID holders can now check in with their faces at the Shanghai’s Hongqiao International Airport in Shanghai. Source: Shutterstock

China is so confident of the technology that it is working quickly to deploy the same solutions at its international airports in Beijing and Nanyang city.

“It is the first time in China to achieve self-service for the whole check-in process,” said Zhang Zheng, General Manager of the Ground Services Department for Spring Airlines, the first airline to adopt the system at Hongqiao International Airport. At the moment, the facility is only available to Chinese identity cardholders.

According to Spring Airlines, passengers have already embraced automated check-in as the new process can cut down check-in times to less than a minute and a half.

Across other parts of China, facial recognition has already seeped into everyday life.

In some places, you can even pay for food using the technology, whereas in some schools, facial recognition is used to monitor the reactions on students’ faces.

SEE ALSO: China testing facial-recognition systems to track Uighur community

Of course, the deployment and use of the technology has also triggered debates on privacy, with some raising concerns over how the government plans to use the biometric data in the future.

Despite these concerns, however, use of the technology continues to proliferate. For the Hangzhou International Marathon on Nov 4, the technology will reportedly even be used to track cheats.


A Chinese traffic policeman walks past the installed facial recognition screen at a road intersection in Shanghai. From toilet-paper dispensers to fast-food restaurants, travel and crime-fighting, China is taking the lead in rolling out facial recognition technology. Source: AFP

Meanwhile in the US, where the technology is trusted by the country’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) department, it has proved useful — and impressed authorities.

The technology, within the first three weeks, intercepted two impostors travelling on fraudulent documents. A 26-year-old woman, who arrived on a flight from Accra, Ghana Saturday morning, presented a US passport to a CBP officer for admission as a returning citizen.

Utilising the new facial comparison technology, the CBP officer established that the traveller was not a match to the passport and referred her for further examination. A secondary examination confirmed that the traveller was a Ghanaian citizen and an impostor to the US passport.

SEE ALSO: Which countries are already employing facial recognition technology?

Prior to that, officers utilising the facial comparison technology intercepted an impostor who was attempting to enter the United States using a French passport. A search revealed the man’s authentic Republic of Congo identification card concealed in his shoe.

Currently, the CBP is testing biometric exit at 15 major airports across the United States. CBP has also implemented facial comparison technology for arrivals processing at 14 locations.

From the looks of it, the technology is making headway in airports and border security and might soon become something that other airports in Asia — especially Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia start using at scale.

A version of this article was first published on our sister website Tech Wire Asia.