Chinese police are using the combined powers of technology and music to catch criminals.
The Wall Street Journal reports that authorities have apprehended fugitives at three different shows along Cantopop star Jacky Cheung’s eastern China tour, using surveillance and facial recognition technology. The string of arrests has inspired a new moniker for Cheung: “The Nemesis of Fugitives.”
Facial recognition equipment enabled security personnel to spot a suspect at Cheung’s April 7 concert in Nanchang. Police were able to pinpoint the 31-year-old suspect in a crowd of 60,000. The cameras were installed before the event, ostensibly to help prevent crime and stampedes, according to police — they say they did not anticipate using it to find and arrest a fugitive.
Another suspect was arrested May 5 in Ganzhou city, and a third this past weekend, on May 20, in Jiaxing. Cities with concerts scheduled later in Cheung’s tour are hopeful that they could have similar luck, with Luoyang police stating, “We are ready” for Cheung’s show in July.
As the Wall Street Journal notes, this isn’t the first time Chinese authorities have caught wrongdoers on camera. Video surveillance and facial recognition have helped identify criminals for offenses as varied as drug use, breaking out of jail and jaywalking. Experiments with this type of tech date back to 2015.
However, it is the first time (or, at least, the first widely reported time) Chinese police have leveraged the tech at major entertainment events such as music concerts. Some say police are highlighting these success stories to help encourage public support of state surveillance.
Cameras have become essentially ubiquitous across the country of China: In subway station, at airports, on busy streets. Repeat offenders, even for crimes as benign as jaywalking, can be instantly identified and shamed into behaving the way authorities would like (in this case, not crossing the street while the light is red — even if they began crossing before the light changed).
Other biometric identifiers, such as voice prints, fingerprints, iris scans and blood types, are also being used in China’s growing surveillance state, particularly in the Xinjiang province, where a violent separatist movement has been brewing among members of the Muslim Uighur minority.
Police across the country gather blood and saliva samples from citizens, regardless of criminal history — and in some cases, reported the WSJ, regardless of consent, resorting to trickery to obtain the samples.
The police may be happy with the results, but not everyone feels the same. For Westerners, this level of oversight can easily come across as governmental overreach reminiscent of Big Brother, the ever-present surveillance intelligence of George Orwell’s dystopian classic “1984.”
Some American congressmen have even asked the Commerce Department to limit exports of U.S. technologies that are being used for this type of surveillance, saying that it is an abuse of technology and that it enables human rights violations.
U.S. suppliers have, in the past, provided components such as microchips and high-tech DNA sequencers that are needed to build the artificial intelligence equipment police are using for state surveillance.