China police are using facial-recognition glasses to identify car passengers and number plates.
The smart glasses were first tested in Beijing at a highway checkpoint last week, according to Reuters.
Powered by artificial intelligence, the eyewear compares faces and cars to a “blacklist” in real time and display a red box and warning sign when a match is made.
The AI-powered glasses are made by LLVision, the company behind similar police sunglasses rolled out at a Henan railway station last month. The technology was quickly praised by authorities for helping identify several individuals who had previously committed crimes, from human trafficking to traffic infringements.
Surveillance and facial recognition technology is on the rise in China. There are currently 170 million surveillance cameras, and the government hopes to more than triple that number by 2020. That would be nearly one camera for every two citizens, which the Ministry of Public Security hopes can eventually be used to identify any citizen within three seconds.
While experts worry about the infringement of privacy and human rights, the CEO of LLVision, Wu Fei, believes the concerns are unwarranted.
“We trust the government,” Wu told Reuters, adding that Beijing uses the AI-powered equipment for “noble causes.”
But one highly-policed region of China, Xinjiang, is regarded as a warning sign of what the government could be planning across the country.
Nearly 50% of Xinjiang’s population are Uyghurs, an ethnic Muslim minority, which the Chinese government treats with suspicion. Facial-recognition cameras are common across the region, license plate numbers are tracked and freedom to travel is drastically limited.
Xinjiang authorities have also requested residents install surveillance apps on their phones, plus DNA, iris scans, fingerprints, and blood types have been collected from citizens, sometimes without their knowledge.
In 2016, Xinjiang police bureaus also began collecting residents’ voice samples. This was likely an early step toward a national voice database that could be used to identify any voice in recorded phone conversations.
China’s large sample population and lax privacy laws have allowed police and private companies to pioneer such technologies with few limitations — technologies that could dramatically alter how Chinese society operates.