From ale to jail: facial recognition catches criminals at China beer festival

A toilet paper dispenser that uses facial recognition technology at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Photograph: Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images

Cameras at Qingdao event identify 25 suspects in under one second, including a man who had been on the run for 10 years.

Chinese police have used facial recognition technology to catch criminals at a beer festival.

Twenty-five wanted individuals were arrested when they turned up to sample the offerings at the annual event in Qingdao – home to China’s most famous beer.

Those caught included one man who had been on the run for 10 years. Eighteen cameras installed at four entrances to the festival identified each of the suspects in under one second, Qingdao police said.

Dozens of other people with criminal records or a history of drug abuse were refused entrance after computers spotted them.

According to Qingdao authorities, the system has a 98.1% accuracy rate and sounds an alarm if a subject’s face is found in the police database. Six officers were stationed at each entrance to verify the matches.

Beer drinkers are just the latest targets of facial recognition in China, where the hardware has been installed at road junctions in four cities to identify and shame pedestrians who ignore traffic regulations.

Facial recognition is also being used by KFC to predict customers’ orders, as China embraces the technology for everything from toilet paper to travel. The “smile to pay” system will allow customers at a healthier spin-off of KFC in the eastern city of Hangzhou to keep their wallets in their pockets after ordering on a machine.

Yum China, which operates several major fast-food brands in China including KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, teamed up with Chinese mobile payments firm Alipay – started by e-commerce giant Alibaba – on the technology. It called the concept a world first.

The ordering machine will compare the customer’s face with the verified picture on their Alipay account.

China is racing ahead in its use of facial recognition technology, despite widespread concerns about its impact on privacy and civil liberties. It has been installed at Beijing’s historic Temple of Heaven to stop people stealing rolls of toilet paper, and this year China Southern Airlines used facial recognition in place of boarding passes for the first time.

In the UK, police used facial recognition software to scan the faces of tens of thousands of revellers at this year’s Notting Hill carnival even though civil liberties groups believed such action would be discriminatory.

In March a government oversight committee in the US heard that approximately half of adult Americans’ photographs are stored in facial recognition databases that can be accessed by the FBI, without their knowledge or consent, in the hunt for suspected criminals.

Agence France-Presse in Beijing
The Guardian


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