In my last post I sang the praises of a Twitter-bot (I still don’t know what that means) which sends out an alert every time a plane associated with an autocratic regime visits Geneva airport, which strikes me as a prime example of technology being used as a force for good. And another example was highlighted on the BBC news website recently. In short, a fellow called Mr Ao was wanted in Zhangshu in south-eastern China for “economic crimes”. Perhaps enjoying the fruits of his labours, he and his wife travelled nearly sixty miles to Nanchang to go to a concert by Hong Kong pop star (and “God of Songs”) Jacky Cheung. What Mr Ao did not realise is that some of China’s 170 million CCTV cameras were installed at the gates to the concert venue, and some nifty facial recognition software quickly alerted the local police that a wanted man was on their patch. As Mr Ao took his seat, presumably loaded down with over-priced snacks and fizzy pop, he was apprehended by the boys in blue. (I’ve checked: police uniforms in China are indeed blue.)
I am well aware of – and have some sympathy with – the privacy concerns about CCTV coverage. But I take comfort from knowing that, with current understaffing in law enforcement, there is probably not someone sitting watching my every move as I traipse longingly from bookshop to Hotel Chocolat to Russell & Bromley before admitting defeat and buying boring old dinner in Sainsbury’s. In other words, most CCTV recordings are never examined. But if you can add reliable face recognition capability to the system, isn’t it the perfect tool for tracking criminals? Imagine being able to identify a suspected money launderer and then gather video evidence as s/he attends meetings all over town – with the added benefit of being able to spot all the colluding enablers along the way. If a system can pick up Mr Ao entering the venue and then locate him among the 60,000 seats before the God of Songs has even cleared his throat, following a launderer calling at plush offices all over London or New York or Singapore would surely be a doddle.