Chinese police get facial recognition glasses

In time for the massive upcoming human migration that is China’s annual Lunar New Year, Chinese police have added a new surveillance tool to their already considerable arsenal: glasses outfitted with fast facial recognition technology that’s connected to a database of 10,000 suspects wanted in connection with major crimes. During the celebration, hundreds of millions of people will flood train stations and airports.

China’s official state media outlet, the People’s Daily, touted the surveillance specs as a way to help out authorities during massive events such as the annual Lunar New Year. Chinese news outlets featured a policewoman wearing a sunglasses version while patrolling a train station in Zhengzhou, the capital of central China’s Henan province. The People’s Daily reported that the eyeglass-mounted camera is equipped with facial-recognition technology capable of “highly effective screening” of crowds for fugitives traveling under false pretenses.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the devices are skirting the slow mess that is blurry CCTV cameras and hooking directly into a database of known suspects. LLVision, the company behind the devices, says that they’ve been able to identify individuals by zipping through a database of 10,000 suspects in as little as 100 milliseconds: faster than some fixed-camera systems. The glasses had already helped railway police at Zhengzhou’s East Railway Station nab seven suspects and 26 people who were allegedly traveling using other people’s identities.

Borrowing others’ identities is a way for people to evade China’s monitoring of air and train travel, to get around travel restrictions, and to slip past whatever punishment authorities think should be meted out for their “infractions,” the WSJ reports. William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International, told the newspaper that the new surveillance tool could also give Chinese authorities the ability to track political dissidents and to profile ethnic minorities.

Beijing-based LLVision Technology Co.’s CEO, Wu Fei, said that the company worked with police departments in Henan, the eastern province of Shandong and the northwestern region of Xinjiang for a year to develop the devices. The glasses are based on wearable video cameras and actually don’t have facial recognition capability themselves. That non-facial recognition model, which sells for 3,999 yuan ($636), is sold to businesses and consumers. Then there’s the surveillance model, or, as the company says, the model that can be used for “identification purposes”. LLVision can’t provide a price for that model, Wu said, given that they’re part of larger, custom-designed systems that vary in cost