South Koreans with the coronavirus will be followed from January by artificial intelligence, facial recognition and thousands of cameras to prevent as many new infections as possible. Despite privacy concerns, the South Korean government’s experiment will start in the new year.
The system uses artificial intelligence and facial recognition to analyze images from some 10,820 security cameras and track the movements of an infected person. In this way, it is also examined with whom an infected person has had close contact and whether they were wearing a face mask or not. The new techniques will be applied for the first time in Bucheon, a suburb of Seoul with about 800,000 inhabitants.
South Korea is not the first country to use facial recognition to prevent corona infections. China, Russia, India, Poland, Japan and some US states have also experimented with the technique. So it is not unexpected that the Koreans are now being followed on a large scale. The country already has an aggressive, high-tech tracking system that tracks credit card details, phone location data, security camera images and other personal information.
The Korean government hopes the new techniques will ease the work of the large number of contact and source researchers, who sometimes even have to work 24-hour shifts to keep track of everything. “It can sometimes take hours to analyze images from a security camera,” Mayor Jang Deog-cheon wrote on Twitter. “With facial recognition technology, that analysis can be done in no time.”
Previous invasive measures have received strong support from South Koreans, but human rights activists and politicians are now concerned. They fear that the government will collect much more data with the new techniques than is necessary to fight the pandemic. “The government plan is to become a big brother with Covid as an excuse,” opposition party member Park Dae-chul told Reuters news agency. “It is completely wrong to monitor and control the people with security cameras paid with taxpayers’ money without the consent of the same people.”
The South Korean government denies that the privacy of Koreans is being violated with the new techniques. By blurring the faces of people who are not being analyzed for the study, among other things, they think they are guaranteeing privacy. There are no plans yet to expand the Bucheon experiment to the rest of the country.