Drug users nabbed by facial recognition system at beer festival – China’s latest top news

Jeremy Goldkorn’s selection of the top stories from China on September 1, 2017. Part of the daily SupChina newsletter, a convenient package of China’s business, political, and cultural news delivered to your inbox for free. Subscribe here.

Facial recognition used to nab persons of interest at beer festival

Facial recognition is one of the applications of artificial intelligence (AI) in which China appears to be leaping ahead:

Business and convenience

You are being watched

While the idea of using your face to replace your wallet, ID card, smartphone, or train and air tickets is appealingly convenient, there is of course a dark side: China is taking its first steps to becoming the world’s biggest panopticon.

  • In June, the Wall Street Journal reported (paywall) that China has 170 million surveillance cameras in public places and is likely to install an additional 450 million cameras by 2020. These cameras are feeding data into facial recognition systems, which will allow the police to scan crowds for persons of interest, and in the Journal’s words, harness facial recognition “as a cudgel to influence behavior.”
  • Sixth Tone says that police in the eastern coastal city of Qingdao used facial recognition technology to “identify and arrest 25 criminal suspects” during that city’s annual beer festival.

Here’s the rub: Sixth Tone reports that the Qingdao system “recognized people with histories of drug addiction, 19 of whom tested positive for drug use and were subsequently arrested.” These 19 people had previously been in trouble with the law for drug use, but they were not found to be taking drugs or committing crimes. They just had the bad luck to be at the beer festival and get recognized as former offenders by the system. Then police forced them to undergo drug tests, almost certainly urine tests, and they were then arrested based on positive results.

Welcome to the future.

Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan’s 30th anniversary

  • The South China Morning Post notes that “China’s most powerful couple — President Xi Jinping 习近平 and well-known folk singer Peng Liyuan 彭丽媛 — marked their 30th wedding anniversary” on September 1.
  • The SCMP says that “state media reports emphasize the couple’s enduring love, running photos of them holding hands and stories about how much they care for each other.” However, state media reports have not have noted that Peng is Xi’s second wife.
  • The China Daily reports on a “mystery post” on Chinese social media that “divulges details on the first couple.” You can see the “mystery post” here — it’s in Chinese but includes lots of photos.
  • Xi Jinping has previously used unofficial social media accounts to spread propaganda, most famously when he queued up at a steamed bun restaurant to buy a simple meal for himself.

Allan Ho sentencing

On August 29, we noted that Allan Szuhsiung Ho 何則雄, a Taiwan-born, naturalized American citizen, was to be sentenced the following day in a U.S. District Court in Tennessee “for using China’s money to buy information about American nuclear power generation the country was forbidden to have,” although the facts of the case seemed murky enough that we questioned whether ethnic profiling might have played a role.

  • We called the District Court in Tennessee where Ho was sentenced. The clerk told us that he received 24 months of imprisonment with credit for time served, followed by one year of supervised release, and a $20,000 fine.
  • The BBC says that Ho “was prosecuted because he did not obtain explicit permission to share ‘sensitive’ nuclear technologies.”
  • In related news, Reuters reports that a U.S. court has jailed a “‘bipolar’ Chinese man who tried to export to mainland carbon fibre used in military drones.”

Kaiser is large and in-charge

We will not be sending a newsletter on Monday, September 4, which is Labor Day in the U.S. I will be travelling for the next two weeks, and leaving this daily newsletter in the capable hands of my Sinica Podcast co-host Kaiser Kuo.