According to a recent report from Al Jazeera (citing Reuters), one of South Korea’s most densely populated cities is preparing to launch a new COVID-19 contact-tracing program that will use artificial intelligence and facial recognition.
The pilot program — which is slated to launch in Bucheon, a city of about 800,000 located on the outskirts of Seoul — will use AI and face biometrics to analyze footage gathered by the city’s CCTV cameras, of which there are more than 10,820.
This effort is intended to improve the country’s already aggressive contact tracing program that employs epidemiological researchers to gather data from credit cards, cellphones, and CCTV footage to track the movements of COVID-19 patients in order to determine who they may have infected while contagious.
Bucheon officials argue that the speed and accuracy of the new program will reduce the workload on these contact tracers and speed up the contact-tracing process considerably, with a reported capability to track 10 people in five to 10 minutes instead of the half hour to one hour it currently takes under the existing system.
“It sometimes takes hours to analyse a single [piece of] CCTV footage. Using visual recognition technology will enable that analysis in an instant,” wrote Bucheon mayor Jang Deog-cheon in a recent Twitter post.
According to a 110-page business plan submitted to the Ministry of Science and ICT (Information and Communications Technology), obtained by Reuters, the new system will be capable of tracking an infected person’s movement, who they had close contact with, and whether they were wearing a mask or not.
Bucheon is the latest government around the world to move to apply facial recognition technology to existing CCTV infrastructure to help manage the spread of COVID-19.
In the early days of the pandemic in March of 2020, the Russian government was revealed to have enabled facial recognition on its network of more than 100,000 cameras to keep track of individuals who had been ordered to quarantine for 14 days, a move that was met with opposition from rights activists across the country.
The Bucheon program itself has been met with much criticism from human rights advocates as well as South Korean legislators.
In a statement to Reuters, Park Dae-chul, a legislator from the main opposition People Power Party said “[t]he government’s plan to become a Big Brother on the pretext of COVID is a neo-totalitarian idea.”
Source: Al Jazeera
December 13, 2021 — by Tony Bitzionis