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Public Security vs. Privacy

In China, the former trumps the latter. What about the rest of the world?



“Privacy is one of the major, very sensitive issues nowadays given that the data is increasing very rapidly.” (Candy Wu)

Candy Wu, vice president of China-based AI unicorn CloudWalk, said this statement during a panel at CNBC’s East Tech West event. But while she recognizes the sensitivity of privacy, CloudWalk’s stance seems to be clear- security trumps all.


The state-backed AI unicorn initially focused on finance, but according to the South China Morning Post it has transformed into the biggest AI supplier to Chinese banks and has “helped Chinese police arrest 10,000 criminals.” With over 100 billion data points, the facial recognition technology makes over 1 billion comparisons of faces against its database each day.

A clear misalignment of actions and words


Internationally, business executives and regulators are voicing their support for oversight. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has voiced his support for “any regulation that helps the marketplace not be a race to the bottom.”


But actions speak louder than words. Amazon, for example, has allowed police in the US to use its computer vision platform Rekognition to track down criminals.


Facial recognition is a controversial tool. While it can be highly useful, controversial use-cases include monitoring citizens. Independent researcher Stephanie Hare goes so far as to equate facial recognition with biometric data and claims that a ban on the technology should be considered.


“If anyone thinks it’s feasible that live facial recognition for public surveillance is possible in a rights-respecting democracy, they’d have to make a pretty convincing argument.” - Silkie Carlo, Director of Big Brother Watch.

Oversight is nowhere in sight

According to the Financial Times, the EU wants to draw up legislation that “should set a world-standard for AI regulation” and sets “clear, predictable and uniform rules . . . which adequately protect individuals.”


Additionally, lawmakers in the US are drafting a bipartisan bill that could limit facial recognition technology in the US.


Sadly, at this point in time no concrete, actionable moves have been made.

In the UK, Prof Paul Wiles has said that due to the absence of clear laws, facial recognition technology is being rolled out in a “chaotic” fashion. Brexit has dominated the political agenda for the past three years; while politicians have looked the other way, more and more cameras are being allowed to look at us.


A delicate balance is needed between maintaining privacy and ensuring security. But will we really increase security, or alternatively bring Big Brother to life? Only time will tell.


If interested, you can check out the aforementioned article about CloudWalk here.