South Korean city to use facial recognition in contact tracing efforts

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One of South Korea’s most densely populated cities is preparing to launch a new COVID-19 contact tracing program that will use artificial intelligence and facial recognition, according to a recent Al Jazeera report (citing Reuters) .

The pilot program – set to start in Bucheon, a city of around 800,000 people on the outskirts of Seoul – will use AI and facial biometrics to analyze images collected by the city’s CCTV cameras, in number of more than 10,820.

This effort aims to improve the country’s already aggressive contact tracing program that employs epidemiology researchers to collect data from credit cards, cellphones and CCTV footage to track the movements of COVID-19 patients. to determine who they may have been infected while they were contagious.

Bucheon officials say the speed and accuracy of the new program will reduce the workload on these contact tracers and dramatically speed up the contact tracing process, with a reported ability to track 10 people in five to 10 minutes instead of ‘half an hour to a. hour it currently takes in the current system.

“It sometimes takes hours to analyze a single [piece of] CCTV footage. The use of visual recognition technology will enable this analysis in an instant, ”Bucheon Mayor Jang Deog-cheon wrote in a recent Twitter post.

According to a 110-page business plan submitted to the Ministry of Science and ICT (Information and Communication Technologies), obtained by Reuters, the new system will be able to track the movements of an infected person, with whom it is was in close contact and whether she was wearing a mask or not.

Bucheon is the latest government in the world to decide to apply facial recognition technology to existing video surveillance infrastructure to help manage the spread of COVID-19.

At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the Russian government was found to have enabled facial recognition on its network of more than 100,000 cameras to track individuals who had been ordered to quarantine for 14 days, a decision which has been respected. with opposition from rights activists across the country.

The Bucheon program itself has drawn much criticism from human rights defenders as well as South Korean lawmakers.

In a statement to Reuters, Park Dae-chul, a lawmaker from the main opposition, the People Power Party, said: “[t]he government’s plan to become a Big Brother under the pretext of COVID is a neo-totalitarian idea. “

Source: Al Jazeera

December 13, 2021 – by Tony Bitzionis

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