China's police get face-recognizing glasses ahead of New Year

It has helped catch seven wanted criminals already, state-run media reports, although many are concerned about privacy infringement.

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How much surveillance is too much? That's a question being asked in China, with some police officers in the country now getting glasses equipped with facial-scanning technology, state-run media reports.

The glasses, issued to officers at a highly populated train station in the Henan province, are part of a security push leading up to Chinese New Year. So far, according to the state-media report, seven wanted criminals have been caught thanks to the glasses, as well as 26 people using fake IDs. 

LLVision Technology, the company behind the tech, told the Wall Street Journal that the glasses can recognize 100,000 different faces, and can identify a person in 100 milliseconds.

Though technically impressive, the glasses -- ironically -- raise security concerns for citizens. "The potential to give individual police officers facial-recognition technology in sunglasses could eventually make China's surveillance state all the more ubiquitous," Amnesty International's William Nee told the Journal.

China's CCTV surveillance network, which by 2020 will be made up of over 600 million AI-powered CCTV cameras, is currently able to track citizens, identify what car they drive and even who their friends are, a December BBC report showed.

To demonstrate the power of the surveillance system, Chinese officials sent a BBC journalist to Guiyang, an area with a population of around 3.5 million, to see how long he could remain out of sight. It took just seven minutes before he was in police custody.

Officials in China justify the system with a "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" attitude, though many worry that it's not so simple.

"It is frightening that Chinese authorities are collecting and centralizing ever more information about hundreds of millions of ordinary people, identifying persons who deviate from what they determine to be 'normal thought,' and then surveilling them," Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said last year of the CCTV surveillance system.

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