China is expanding the scope of its biometric network in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Guangzhou Public Transportation Group is now using biometric tablets to check the temperature (and the identity) of every passenger who boards one of the city’s buses.
The tablets themselves are being installed next to the driver’s seat on the buses in question. To use them, passengers must place their forehead close to the tablet to check their temperature. The tablet will also take a photo of each passenger, allowing them to be identified using China’s vast facial recognition network. Public health officials are hoping that the system will help curb the spread of the coronavirus. People with a high temperature may be displaying symptoms of the virus, while the use of facial recognition will allow state officials to trace anyone who has had contact with a passenger who later receives a COVID-19 diagnosis.
The news suggests that China increasingly regards temperature tracking as an effective way to combat COVID-19. Al Jazeera recently reported that the country is already using infrared scanners in conjunction with surveillance cameras to monitor the progression of the disease, while the Chinese AI specialist Hanvon claims that it has developed a facial recognition solution that is 95 percent accurate when identifying people wearing medical masks.
The Public Transportation Group claims that the data collected through the system will only be used for public health purposes. However, participation is not optional for Guangzhou commuters, and China has been criticized for its invasive biometric practices in the past.
The Nikkei Asian Review notes that while the system may be a useful public health measure, it is unlikely to be implemented in Europe or North America, where there is far more resistance to government surveillance practices. Earlier this month, the ACLU sued the U.S. government for access to records about its use of facial recognition at the country’s airports.
Source: Nikkei Asian Review
March 30, 2020 – by Eric Weiss