“Gait recognition” technology that can identify people based on their unique body shape and movements is being used by the Chinese government as a tool for surveillance, according to a new report from the AP. The technology, which identifies people from up to 165 feet away even if their face is obscured, is already being used on the streets of Beijing and Shanghai.
High Tech Surveillance
“Gait recognition” is the latest high tech tool that Chinese authorities are enlisting in their push for more data-driven and artificial intelligence-assisted surveillance. And even if people attempt to alter their walking patterns by feigning a limp or hunch, the system can still identify them.
“Gait analysis can’t be fooled by simply limping, walking with splayed feet or hunching over, because we’re analyzing all the features of an entire body,” Huang Yongzhen, CEO of Watrix, told the AP.
According to a recent report in Biometrics News, Watrix recently announced that it had raised over 100 million yuan ($14.3 million US) to expedite the development and sale of its gait analysis technology.
Limitations and concerns
China is hardly alone in its interest in a technology that can identify people without seeing their face. The U.S., U.K. and Japan have all been developing gait recognition technology for over 10 years. The challenge, according to Mark Nixon, a gait recognition expert at the University of Southampton in Britain, is that such technology is, “more complex than other biometrics, computationally.”
“It takes bigger computers to do gait because you need a sequence of images rather than a single image,” Nixon told the AP.
Indeed, the software currently used by the Chinese government is not yet capable of analyzing people in real time. Instead, videos are uploaded to the program, which then takes around 10 minutes to analyze an hour of footage.
Latest Tool in China’s Arsenal?
The Chinese government’s emphasis on social cohesion has made the country an obvious incubator for such technology, says Chinese columnist and commentator Shi Shusi.
“Using biometric recognition to maintain social stability and manage society is an unstoppable trend,” he said, according to the AP. “It’s great business.”
Although there are concerns that the technology could be used to further surveil Chinese citizens and identify dissidents (China’s domestic security spending has tripled over the last decade), Huang Yongzhen said it could also be used to improve safety, like quickly identifying a senior citizen who has taken a fall.
Regardless of how it’s used, the people who will be scrutinized using the technology have little say in the matter.
“You don’t need people’s cooperation for us to be able to recognize their identity,” Huang told the AP.