In China, they are erecting a huge number of closed-circuit televisions with facial recognition functionality in cities, which they claim are for the purposes of tracking and identifying criminals who have absconded and are at large within the community. This China’s nationwide surveillance system ‘SkyNet’ was launched in 2015 and after several years’ development and upgrades, it was enabled to identify 40 facial features under most angles and lighting conditions, with an accuracy rate of 99.8 per cent, powered by the algorithmic system behind it. (People’s Daily, 2018) Paul Mozur (2018) estimated that there will be nearly 300 million installed cameras in China and Chinese police will have spent $30 billion on surveillance technology based on his analysis. Economist Martin Chorzempa from the Peterson Institute for International Economics told the New York Times that the goal of this mass-surveillance, which is based on advanced technology, is to place an entire society under algorithmic governance (2018).
With the help of algorithmic network behind countless facial recognition cameras in cities, the police in Chongqing launched the ‘Sharpen Eyes’ project, which is a branch of the broader SkyNet initiative. It intends to connect private cameras on compounds and buildings with existing networks and integrate them into a nationwide surveillance and data-sharing platform to extend the coverage area of the SkyNet system to a broader scale, aiming to create a society where criminals cannot hide (Simon Denyer, 2018). The data generated by these cameras will not only be used to detect criminals in real-time but will also feed the artificial intelligence system from the perspective of training their analysis and understanding of videos. In addition, according to the official documents and reports from the security industry, while the system has already achieved the goal of sending alerts to enforcement agencies once anomalies have been detected, the Sharpen Eyes project will continue to be used for a number of activities, from tracking suspects to spotting suspicious behaviour and even predicting crimes (The Ministry of Public Security of the PRC, 2017). A director of research and development at a local algorithm technology development firm in Chongqing told The Washington Post that the logic behind the crime prediction of the Sharpen Eyes project is based on the link between locations and connections with others. For example, if it is known that gambling takes place in a certain location and someone goes there frequently, the authorities will become suspicious (2018).
China is not the only nation who is testing algorithmic governance systems in the arena of public security. In the United States, the FBI’s next-generation identification system also uses facial recognition to distinguish and compare criminal photos against a national database (Kimberly J. Del Greco, 2017). The Los Angeles Police Department developed a real-time analysis and critical response division system based on a data-driven algorithmic system that was trained by a decade of police crime data to predict where and when crime was most likely to occur downtown (Nate Berg, 2014). However, China is different from those Western enforcement agencies, where the algorithmically driven system is only fed by confirmed criminal data and monitors specific high-risk areas. SkyNet and its Sharpen Eyes project pull ordinary people into the scope of their suspect scale.
- Kimberly J. Del Greco. (217) Law Enforcement’s Use of Facial Recognition Technology. [Online] Available at: https://www.fbi.gov/news/testimony/law-enforcements-use-of-facial-recognition-technology
- People’s Daily. (2018). ‘Skynet’ system supported by facial recognition technology boosts Chinese public safety. People’s Daily. [Online] Available at: http://en.people.cn/n3/2018/0326/c90000-9441798.html
- Paul, Mozur. (2018). Inside China’s Dystopian Dreams: A.I., Shame and Lots of Cameras. The New York Times. [Online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/08/business/china-surveillance-technology.html
- Simon, Denyer. (2018). China’s watchful eye. The Washington Post. [Online] Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/world/wp/2018/01/07/feature/in-china-facial-recognition-is-sharp-end-of-a-drive-for-total-surveillance/?utm_term=.695acce7aa8f
- The Ministry of Public Security of the PRC. (2017). National Sharpen Eyes project construction background. [Online] Available at: http://www.21csp.com.cn/zhanti/xlgcfx/article/article_15369.html
- Nate, Berg. (2014) Predicting crime, LAPD-style. The Guardian. [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/jun/25/predicting-crime-lapd-los-angeles-police-data-analysis-algorithm-minority-report