Law enforcement in Hong Kong has reportedly had access to artificial intelligence software to identify faces from any type of footage for years now but it's not clear if they are using it to quell the recent pro-democracy protests that have raged for months.
Bloomberg reported that engineers from iOmniscient, the Sydney headquartered technology firm, have training officers in Hong Kong on how to use the AI software for three years or longer.
Software can match faces from closed-circuit TV footage
The software can identify people based on footage from closed-circuit TV, match their faces to license plates in a database accessible to the police.
According to the report the AI software is also used to find children who get lost and to control traffic. The Hong Kong police reportedly asked about identifying license plate numbers automatically using dashboard cameras in a training session after the protest started in the summer.
Since the protests began in June, residents of Hong Kong who engaged in the unrest have expressed concern that the police department was deploying facial recognition technology to spy on them. To counter that, demonstrators have taken to the streets in masks and otherwise covered themselves as they carried out acts of protest. They fear Hong Kong is adopting similar surveillance technology as the mainland. They worry smart lamposts and CCTV cameras have build-in facial recognition technology despite the assurances by Hong Kong authorities that it's not true.
Fears of a surveillance state in Hong Kong loom large
Worrying about digital surveillance isn't all protestors in Hong Kong have to contend with. During the summer reports surfaced that police in Hong Kong had ordered what is being called "robocop-style" police armor. The body armor can withstand knife attacks, flying bullets and comes way of China. There were reportedly 500 suits purchased.
The months-long Hong Kong protests were sparked by opposition to the Fugitive Offenders bill which the Hong Kong government put up for a vote. Under the bill, authorities could arrest and extradite criminal fugitives to Taiwan and mainland China. That raised concerns it would undermine the autonomy of Hong Kong and trample on civil liberties.