Facial Recognition Abroad

By: Patrick McCaslin

Facial recognition is a technology that is used all around the globe for varying reasons and with different levels of regulation.  


This article serves to explore some of the uses of facial recognition outside of the US. 


China often comes up when we discuss abuses of facial recognition, particularly regarding the persecution of the Uighur people in Xinjiang province. 


This province in Northwest China has a majority Uighur Muslim population. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported that China arbitrarily imprisons, tortures, and tracks Uighurs and forces them to assimilate to Han Chinese culture.


China uses facial recognition for these purposes.


IPVM, an independent authority on surveillance, reports that China has developed facial recognition technology that can differentiate between Uighurs and Han Chinese.  Technology that can differentiate on the basis of ethnicity has the potential to open a lot of unwelcome doors, both in China and in other countries experiencing ethnic or racial tensions.


The BBC further reports that China has developed technology to identify people who appear nervous or agitated and specifically tested it in Xinjiang.


Recently, the BBC reported the Chinese province of Henan is creating a facial recognition system that identifies journalists, migrant women and foreign students as people of concern according to a “traffic light system” that grades severity. 


Of less consequence, China has made news for using facial recognition to identify and shame jaywalkers


In the Middle East, Israel has used facial recognition to identify certain segments of their population. Former Israeli soldiers and an Israeli veterans organization, Breaking the Silence, says the Israeli Defense Forces, have generated a database of Palestinian faces by taking pictures of Palestinian civillians, sometimes without their permission. 


Israeli forces use this database at checkpoints to confirm whether a person can proceed or must be detained or arrested.


In India, facial recognition was used to identify protestors in a 2020 demonstration against a new citizenship law.

Governments and firms may also use facial recognition for convenience. 


China uses facial recognition in subway stations to ease entry to the station. One simply glances at the scanner and completes their payment in a fraction of the time it would take to tap or swipe a card. This also removes the hassle of potentially forgetting one’s card or not being able to swipe it.


Some universities in Japan have installed facial recognition at the counters of their cafeterias. Students then have the option of registering their face with the university and paying for their meals. The system even works with a mask on.


In the United States, the Huffington Post reports that the FBI used an open source facial recognition tool to identify at least one of the rioters in the January 6 Capitol Riots. 


Only some international governmental organizations have commented on the use of facial recognition.


Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations Human Rights Chief, has issued a call for a moratorium on the sale and use of artificial intelligence technology, including facial recognition. 


“The higher the risk for human rights, the stricter the legal requirements for the use of AI technology should be,” she said.


The European Union recently passed a bill banning the use of facial recognition in policing public spaces and also predictive policing, a technology that tries to anticipate a crime before it happens. 


For now, policies on facial recognition vary greatly, but understanding the ways the technology is used in other countries can help citizens have more informed opinions.