The East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) is scaling back a facial recognition surveillance program that was installed over the summer. The cameras were installed at JR East stations and on its trains in July, ahead of the now-completed Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
In that regard, the cameras were deployed to boost security during the event. The cameras gave JR East operators the ability to track suspicious individuals loitering in their stations, and to identify suspects already wanted in relation to criminal activity.
The system could also be used to track ex-cons who had been released from prison, and it’s that last utility that drew the ire of privacy advocates. In response, JR East has announced that parolees will no longer be added to the watchlist that it is tracking with facial recognition.
JR East had initially received information about recent parolees from the Public Prosecutors Office, through a notification program that alerts venue managers when someone who has committed a serious crime at their location has been released from prison (the Office also notifies the victims of those crimes). Therefore, the ex-cons being monitored by JR East had committed crimes at the company’s stations or on its trains.
However, critics outside the company argued that the tool was needlessly invasive, and encroached on the privacy of those parolees as free citizens. JR East now seems to agree, and will no longer be tracking released prisoners in its stations.
JR East is not the only transit provider that has adopted facial recognition. Indian Railways has installed roughly 500 cameras with NtechLab technology at 30 stations in Gujarat and Maharashtra, while local police have trialed similar systems in Berlin and Cardiff. New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority had also planned to test cameras in subway cars, but scrapped the project (at least for now) after its provider was linked to the Chinese government.
September 24, 2021 – by Eric Weiss