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Goodbye privacy? Facial recognition glasses tell Chinese cops everything they need to know about a person

Author Lynsey Free

It's often referred to as a surveillance state, but things just got even more intense in China. Police officers in the city of Zhengzhou are wearing facial recognition glasses which can reveal a plethora of details about any citizen, from their address to their internet habits.


Although they resemble a typical pair of sunglasses, the shades aren't actually focused on blocking out ultraviolet rays. Instead, they're linked to a tablet device which allows cops to take photos of people they deem to be suspicious. Those mugshots are then compared with a database at the police headquarters.

The database quickly brings up the person's vital information, including their name, ethnicity, gender, and address. It also reveals whether they're on the run from the law.

If that wasn't impressive or creepy enough, the database also tells officers hotel address where the person might be staying, and information related to their internet usage.

The Zhengzhou Police Department said the technology has so far allowed cops to catch seven suspects accused of various crimes, ranging from human trafficking to hit-and-runs. It also helped them nab 26 people who were using fake IDs, the state-owned People's Daily reported.

The sunglasses are so far only being worn by four officers positioned at entrances to Zhengzhou's east station during the Chinese New Year period – the busiest time of year for the country’s transit systems.

However, the technology is seemingly part of a wider effort to keep tabs on the country’s population through a digital surveillance system capable of using biometric data such as photos, iris scans, and fingerprints.

Some Chinese banks are already using facial recognition instead of cards at ATMs, and China Southern Airlines is ditching boarding passes in favor of the hi-tech scheme. Gyms, restaurants, and even public toilets have also jumped on board.

China’s rapid progress in the field is, according to experts, surpassing the West’s capabilities. This is because the country has relatively lax privacy laws and its citizens are already used to having their biometric and other personal details taken.

But still, not everyone is on board with the technology. “The potential to give individual police officers facial recognition technology in sunglasses could eventually make China's surveillance state all the more ubiquitous,” Amnesty International’s William Nee told The Wall Street Journal.

The Beijing-based LLVision Technology Co. developed the glasses, according to the Journal. The company also produces wearable video cameras, which are available on the open market. However, its facial recognition sunglasses are not currently available to consumers. 

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