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China Approves Facial Recognition for Surveillance 78

user24 writes "Several sources are reporting that China has approved a facial recognition system to be used for ID purposes in surveillance and security. From the article: 'The system, approved by the Ministry of Public Security, is expected to be used at airports, customs entrances, banks, post offices, residential areas and other public places in the near future [...] 'It has a superior advantage compared with fingerprint identification because the country doesn't have a fingerprint database for the general public,' [...] However, the country's ID cards do feature the person's photograph, which could facilitate the creation of a facial database, said Su Guangda.'"
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China Approves Facial Recognition for Surveillance

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  • by merc ( 115854 ) <slashdot@upt.org> on Monday February 20, 2006 @12:16PM (#14761387) Homepage
    When China does it... it's communism.

    When a western country does it, it's for homeland security.
    • by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Monday February 20, 2006 @12:34PM (#14761525)
      When China does it... it's communism. When a western country does it, it's for homeland security.

      Cf. the differences between

      terrorist and freedom fighter
      heretic and prophet
      gangster and king
      treasonous rebel and founding father

      "When I say a word, it means what I want it to mean." -- Humpty Dumpty

      • I went to see Boogie Nights, looking at it as a nearsighted historian, rather than as a film critic, trying to see what might be true, historically, if not histrionically. As a porn critic, I am only allowed, by my union, to review North Hollywood films. Of course, I wasn't in Chatsworth in 1978, so I don't really know what was going on there. I don't even remember those post-Nixon years. Due to a lack of drug taking in my placid youth, I have no flashbacks whatsoever of anything that's happened in America
    • In my books, when anyone does it, it's bloody crazy.

      Most people don't care about individual freedom, though. The government only ever fails individuals, not any sizable portion of the population. Unfortunately, most people don't really give a shit about something that they perceive can't happen to them.
      • This will change, though it may come too late. The key experiment in this arena is of course the UK, not China due to the decade+ head start they have. As they inevitably move towards being able to process their massive video capture in ways that find crimes and other costs to society automatically (catch all speeders, catch everyone that runs a stop sign, catch every jaywalker, catch everyone who doesn't properly use a blinker, direct bill for exact usage of all public facilities, not just roads, catch h
    • While lots of people bash Chin I don't see anything in the article or the quip here at /. that smashes China. So I don't know what you're moaning about here. If you love Communism I think that's great, I love it too, as an idea. It's just that no one has yet done it right. At least in capitalism there are *some* checks and balances on power abuse. I don't really see those in places like China. And for all those people talking about China's success, it's because they're becoming more capitalist, not communis
      • If you love Communism I think that's great, I love it too, as an idea. It's just that no one has yet done it right.

        It's that "totalitarianism" phase of Marxism - the guys who start the revolution just can't quite seem to get through that phase in order to start the inevitable arrival at Utopia. Given enough historical trends, one might start to suspect that the "leaders" of the Revolution(tm) never really intended to get past the totalitarian phase.

      • Wow, this is wrong on so many levels. Communism fails because people do it right -- not despite of it. Planned economies cannot work because those doing the planning are less invested in the success of their plan than those performing the work. And those performing the work naturally dull their ingenuity because they feel disenfranchised from power. The ingenuity is not gone completely, but it is dulled.

        Plus innovation comes out of planning -- a process that more often than not involves weighing the po

    • Software Development:

      When Microsoft does it ... it's evil.

      When RMS does it, it's for the good of the world.

      The point here is that technology is rarely if ever inherently wrong; it just depends on who uses it and what they use it for.
  • by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Monday February 20, 2006 @12:31PM (#14761493)

    Let's say that they deploy this thing in only one city. It sees, shall we say, ten million faces a day.

    Each face has to be compared against the database. The database of the Chinese population, because you can't assume that everyone stays in the same city all the time. One point two billion people.

    I make that twelve quadrillion comparisons that will have to be made each day by this system. This thing's going to have to make the Earth Simulator look like an abacus...

    • by Anonymous Coward
      You're only going to need one picture in the database ...
    • Yeah... because heaven forbid that we use something better than linear searching to test for matches. I don't really know the details of how face recognition works, but I'd be surprised if you couldn't use a tree-like structure to do only O(log n) comparisons to find a specific person.

      Besides, the argument that it won't be feasible on a technical level/too expensive/too complicated is a bit naive, too. The same thing could said about China's "great firewall" (and probably has been said about it prior to its
      • Yeah... because heaven forbid that we use something better than linear searching to test for matches. I don't really know the details of how face recognition works, but I'd be surprised if you couldn't use a tree-like structure to do only O(log n) comparisons to find a specific person.

        I imagine they could play a game of Guess Who with the database... first of all split it to Men or Women, then narrow it down to People With Thick Eyebrows, People With Big Ears, People With Beards, etc. But you're looking a

    • The methods used (and demands on the system) are conducive to quick searching. The face is hashed into a (hopefully) unique numerical value using eigenfaces [wikipedia.org]. This large databases of small numbers can then be searched quickly. The bottleneck is in counstructing the eigenvalues for all the faces in a crowd, this has been demod at pretty high speed on PC hardware, though.

      The systems are plagued with false negatives...I think this computer will find all Chinese people look different.

    • Each face has to be compared against the database.

      The article implied that they wouldn't be doing this (that is--all 1.3 billion pictures would be loaded in the database, and the computer would be matching each face to each picture many times per day.)

      We don't have that type of technology. We don't have anything *near* that type of technology (I've understood facial recognition to be accurate at fewer than 10,000 photographs. Anything above that and it just loses it.)

      The article implies that they will only
      • We don't have that type of technology. We don't have anything *near* that type of technology (I've understood facial recognition to be accurate at fewer than 10,000 photographs. Anything above that and it just loses it.)

        Exactly. Most systems lose any value at all at far below 10,000 faces, though.

        Facial recognition is largely in the "snake oil" stage, where salespeople dummy up ridiculous best-case tests against a tiny database, and then declare the technology a success. Put a billion Chinese in a database
        • "Of course it can be done - humans somehow do it, and we do it tremendously well."

          Depending on what you mean by 'well'. How many times have you passed right by someone you know, and how many times have you seen someone you think you recognize in a crowd, but it turned out to be someone just looking like them?

          Even if the human brain is tremendously good at facial recognition, the problem simply grows too fast when both population and match-set grows. Personally I suspect there simply is such a large overlap
    • I make that twelve quadrillion comparisons that will have to be made each day by this system

      There's no need to compare against the entire population - they only need to compare against the people they're looking for - christians, reporters, students, writers, etc.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 20, 2006 @12:31PM (#14761497)
    That's really impressive! I mean, to me, they all look alike...ow, hey! Stop throwing things! Not in the face! Not in the face!
  • by GuyverDH ( 232921 ) on Monday February 20, 2006 @12:31PM (#14761498)
    What happens when the machine thinks we all look alike?
  • "other public places" == "China"
    • Well, there's not really a lot left after you cover "airports, customs entrances, banks, post offices, residential areas."
      • there's not really a lot left after you cover "airports, customs entrances, banks, post offices, residential areas."

        Go to Google Earth some time and check out China. You'll be surprised how much is left.
        • If you're going for facial recognition of farmers and people hiking in the woods, yeah. But for average urban life, just covering banks, post offices, and residential areas (emphasis on the last) monitors a large section of the population on a regular basis.

  • There have been cameras pointing at you at customs when flying between the UK and Ireland for years, and I've noticed them at more and more customs posts recently in Europe.

    It wouldn't surprise me if the same thing is true in the USA.
    • of course, it has to be fine if it happens here, we wouldnt want china to lag behind the west in the total surveillance of their entire population.

      maybe they could share info with the west too, incase any chinese dissidents try to hide in europe or north america. we could also persecute people that disagree with 'western values', should they be silly enough to try to hide in china.

  • Well, this is all part of the Golden shield project, which uses Western technology (surveillance tech provided by the FBI) and is built mainly by some 300 Western companies. Isn't a bit too late complaining now?

    Lotsa uninformed China bashing on Slashdot these days...
    • just becuase it's being built by western companies means we like it. It's increasingly looking like a large segment (or at least an important [reuters.co.uk]one)of the US population dislikes the fact that US companies are doing it.
  • they all look alike don't they???
  • I am not sure how precise the face recognition in China may be since all Chinese looks the same to me...
  • I think the critique against general is based on wrong assumptions. The view in the west, and the western media of China, is of a very strong, centrally controlled government.

    This is absolutely falce. The central government in China, while a strong entity in itself, has very little control over what happens in China. China is in fact very locally governed (If this sounds of anarchistic ideas, then you would be correct, Mao was strongly influenced by European anarchist thinkers).

    Thus if the central governmen
  • Cats says: (Score:2, Funny)

    by user24 ( 854467 )
    All your face are belong to us

    muhahah :-)
  • I wonder if, when applying for an ID card, Chinese citizens were told their faces might be scanned and used for a future project such as this.

    I also wonder if my UK driving license photo was scanned by my government for similar purposes.

    Additionally, I wonder if I could copyright or trademark my face, or at least facial features such as those that would be used by this type of system.

    Finally, I wonder if the systems are really that reliable, given the pretty bad track record that fingerprinting systems have
    • the photographer owns the copyright on any photograph they take, you cannot copyright your face
    • sorry, missed your other points.

      yes the uk government does make a digital copy of your photo for your driving license, i doubt it is deleted, but it may or may not be much use for facial recognition.

      currently facial recognition has high error rates, it is also fooled by wearing a hat, a hood, or growing a beard, among other things. it has been trialed in the uk, although im not sure if its currently in use, as the trials werent very successful. obviously though, the technology will improve & its on

    • I wonder how they'd cope if I got a tattoo done of those anti-printing circles they have on banknotes??? they'd never be able to print my face on a wanted poster...
    • Chinese citizens were told their faces might be scanned and used for a future project such as this.

      Why would the government care about whether they should tell their citizens about what they plan on doing with the picture? The citizens had better damn well do what they're told, they don't need any explanation.

  • .....Google!!

    (it's a joke, laugh)

    Jaysyn
  • Yep, they can't stop copying existing western programs [dhs.gov] ...
  • Not to be worried... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Lugor ( 628175 )
    Let me relate a story about how all governments are inefficient and incompetent, even police states. I have two friends who live in the US. They are Chinese born and are naturalized American citizens. So their passports have the same 'English' or PingYing name. They both live in the same area and work for NASA. When one goes back (to China), the other always has issues if he goes back within 2-3 months. That is because the system simply tracks them by name and area they are from. So the system sees a
  • Cool! Now I can be CERTAIN of not being recognised in China!
  • Chinese people seen making strange faces all the time. Beijing denies bird flu link.

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