We already knew that China was helping African nations to spy on their citizens. Now it turns out it may also be helping the United States.
On Friday, the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post published a story claiming to have seen Chinese official documents detailing the use by the New York Police Department of the same cameras developed in China and facial recognition software that China uses to monitor its citizens.
The truthfulness of the details of the story is under debate, but the increased use of surveillance technology in the US is an undisputed fact – and Americans can actually be better off if the technology comes from China.
O SCMP claims to have seen an official document from the Chinese government that reveals that the US is currently using the surveillance technology developed by Chinese company Hikvision. This is the same technology that drives China's Sky Net, which is the world's largest video surveillance system.
The report denies knowing to what extent the US has incorporated this technology. However, the SCMP says the document states that NYPD uses Hikvision products on a "large scale" basis and that the products are also being used elsewhere in the US. If true, the report would raise concerns about a foreign superpower using hardware to gain access to the surveillance capabilities used by US law enforcement.
As regards the details, the SCMP reports that cameras and software are currently used by the New York Police Department to monitor a high-crime area in the Bronx as well as along US Route 1, which is the longest north-south highway in the United States.
Bye Bye Bias
Facial recognition technology is highly controversial.
Microsoft president Brad Smith recently warned that its widespread implementation could lead to a future similar to the dystopian science fiction novel. 1984, while proponents choose to focus on the potential of technology to help with everything from fighting terrorism to stopping human trafficking.
However, if the US uses facial recognition technology, it may be better for people to have technology come from China.
So far, a disturbing number of facial recognition systems developed in the U.S. have exhibited a serious racial and gender bias, making far more mistakes when a target is non-white or non-male. According to an unidentified member of Hikvision's technical team, the technology developed in China does not exhibit the same bias.
"Face Recognition [technology] has been used in many areas, "he said. The post. "It works perfectly well in communities with a large black population."
Of course, this is just the claim of a person working in the company that develops the technology. But if China's facial recognition systems are less biased than the US, Americans may want to urge the country to import its surveillance technology – if it insists on using technology in the first place.