AS 60,000 excited concertgoers filed in to see Hong Kong pop star Jacky Cheung, they had no idea their faces were being scanned.
One of those among the massive crowd in the Chinese city of Nanchang was a 31-year-old fugitive known only by his surname of Ao.
A local news website reports that Ao was wanted by police for “economic crimes” and his details had been entered into a national database.
Presumably, the wanted man believed he would never be recognised or caught among the tens of thousands of people at the concert.
However, in the middle of a lively electronic song about summer romance, two police officers began descending the aisles, stopped at Ao’s aisle and apprehended him — according to footage posted on the Chinese video sharing site Miaopai.
Kan Kan News reports that cameras at the entrances with facial recognition technology had identified him, flagged authorities and led cops to his exact location.
“He was completely shocked when we took him away,” a local police officer, Li Jin, boasted as he told the Xinhua news agency about the arrest.
“He couldn’t fathom that police could so quickly capture him in a crowd of 60,000.”
Mr Li also told China Daily that there were several cameras at the ticket entrances equipped with facial recognition technology.
Mr Ao had reportedly driven 90km (56 miles) from Zhangshu to Nanchang with his wife specially to catch the concert.
However, video footage obtained by Kan Kan, appears to show the suspect speaking in police custody, saying: “If I knew, I wouldn’t have gone [to the concert].”
Ao’s incredible capture is a stark example of China’s growing use of facial recognition technology, which is used to track the movements of its 1.4 billion citizens.
As cops now stroll the streets wearing “smartglasses” with a facial recognition systems, law enforcement and security officials in China say they hope to use facial recognition technology to track suspects and even predict crimes.
In another high profile capture in August last year, police in Shandong province arrested 25 suspects using a facial recognition system that was set up at the Qingdao International Beer Festival.
China is now a world leader in the creepy technology and regularly reminds its citizens that such equipment will make it almost impossible to evade the authorities.
The country has been building what it calls “the world’s biggest camera surveillance network”.
This will include an estimated 170 million CCTV cameras are already in place and some 400 million new ones are expected be installed in the next three years.
“At the back end, these efforts merge with a vast database of information on every citizen, a ‘Police Cloud’ that aims to scoop up such data as criminal and medical records, travel bookings, online purchase and even social media comments — and link it to everyone’s identity card and face,” the Chinese government boasted in a statement about the project.
“A goal of all of these interlocking efforts: To track where people are, what they are up to, what they believe and who they associate with — and ultimately even to assign them a single ‘social credit’ score based on whether the government and their fellow citizens consider them trustworthy.”
The most obvious demerit points are aimed at those who engage in criminal behaviour or are in debt.
But what people say and do in public can also be ‘scored’ — both positively or negatively. As can their purchasing habits.
Smoking on a train. Illegal parking. Being unruly in a public place. Taking an unsanctioned line on social media. All can cost points.
Members of the Communist state with high scores can benefit through the opening of doors to services, travel and positions. Those with lower scores see those doors closed.
And, if you think this sounds creepy, you’re not alone. NGO Human Rights Watch is closely watching what is unfolding in China in relation to mass surveillance.
Maya Wang, a senior researcher at the group, told the Washington Post that China was aggregating data about its citizens and using the information they had gathered to target ethnic minorities in the western Chinese province.
“For the first time, we are able to demonstrate that the Chinese government’s use of big data and predictive policing not only blatantly violates privacy rights, but also enables officials to arbitrarily detain people,” Wang said.
“People in Xinjiang can’t resist or challenge the increasingly intrusive scrutiny of their daily lives because most don’t even know about this ‘black box’ program or how it works.”
China’s ‘social credit’ system is seeing expanded application under its leader, President Xi Jinping’s emperor-like rule.
The National Development and Reform Commission recently released a report saying a person’s score on this conformity system will now determine whether or not individuals are free to travel.
“Chinese government authorities clearly hope to create a reality in which bureaucratic pettiness could significantly limit people’s rights,” says Maya Wang, a senior researcher for the non-profit NGO Human Rights Watch.
Under the social credit system, the Beijing government assigns a value to the behaviour of its citizens. It hopes to have a centralised database adding and subtracting points for all its 1.4 billion citizens in full swing by 2020.
— with Jamie Seidel