Government officials in Suzhou have issued a formal apology for an act of public shaming that was carried out using the city’s surveillance cameras. The cameras are equipped with facial recognition technology, which means that the city can use them to identify individual residents.
The city was forced to apologize after flagrantly abusing that ability. Suzhou is located in China’s Anhui province, and has been trying to curtail “bad behavior” in its bid to win a “civilized city” competition. To that end, the city published seven images of people wearing their pajamas in a public setting, highlighting the practice as an example of what not to do.
However, the city took things a step further, and shared the photos alongside sensitive personal information, including the names and ID cards of the offending individuals. The invasion of privacy sparked considerable anger online, with many residents going on to argue that public pajamas were not terribly significant.
The city’s apology was made in response to that backlash. Officials indicated that they still planned to release more photos, but would blur the images and avoid sharing personal information in the future.
“We wanted to put an end to uncivilized behavior, but of course we should protect residents’ privacy,” the city said in its statement. Other examples of bad behavior include handing out flyers or lying down on a public bench.
While the apology is likely appreciated, the incident will do nothing to assuage people’s concerns about facial recognition. In fact, it may even validate them. The news comes shortly after a New York Times exposé that detailed the unmonitored surveillance activities of Clearview AI, while China recently began trialing a new emotion recognition system in Xinjiang.
Those concerns have prompted facial recognition bans in North American cities like San Francisco and Cambridge. The EU is also reportedly considering a temporary ban to give the regulatory framework more time to catch up to the technology.
January 22, 2020 – by Eric Weiss