Facial recognition tech picks a suspect out of a crowd of 50,000 in China

Police in southeast China have reportedly arrested a fugitive spotted in a crowd of 50,000 people attending a pop concert thanks to some eerily accurate facial recognition technology. According to local reports, the man was arrested while attending a show by Hong Kong singer Jacky Cheung in the Nanchang, Jiangxi province.

The man’s full name hasn’t been released but he is described in reports by his family name, Ao. “Ao was suspected to be involved in an economic crime and was listed on a national online system,” police officer Li Jin is quoted as saying. “He was very shocked and had a blank face when we caught him.” Ao had reportedly thought that he was safe to attend the crowded event because he considered that there was minimal chance that he would be identified in such a large group of people.

China has invested heavily in facial recognition technology for its law enforcement. Provided that this story is accurate — and not simply overstating the technology’s abilities to keep people in line — it suggests that this technology is incredibly well integrated. Not only is the ability to pick individual faces out of a crowd of 50,000 people some serious CSI-level tech, but it indicates that China is keeping a massive country-wide database of criminal identities which can be accessed by security cameras. According to the original report, 31-year-old Ao had driven between cities to attend the concert.

China’s Ministry of Public Security launched its facial recognition tech in 2015. Since then it has been used in a variety of different contexts. Earlier this year it was reported that police in Beijing are being kitted out with facial recognition smart glasses that let them identify individuals and match them up with a police database of wanted suspects. Visitors to a restroom in Beijing have also been subject to facial recognition tech intended to stop them from using too much toilet paper.

China’s President Xi Jinping is supposedly enthusiastic about ways to use artificial intelligence, including facial recognition technology, to track behavior which is viewed as running counter to the interests of the ruling Communist Party.

GovTech, an agency of the Singapore government is scheduled to start a “Lampost-as-a-Platform” pilot next year. The project will install surveillance cameras linked to facial recognition software on the top of more than 100,000 lamposts, Business Insider reported.

Updated on April 14: Added information about Singapore’s lampost project.