China’s national surveillance system, called the Skynet Project, equipped the country with more than 20 million cameras dedicated to “live surveillance and recording." Credit: File photo.

The reputation seems to be rightly deserved — Chinese citizens under the constant watchful eye of security cameras with facial recognition technology, able to recognize a face automatically.

Clearly, as a “security state,” they are the worst offenders? Well, not exactly …

While China is usually labeled as such, it’s been discovered that the United States actually has more closed-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras per capita than anywhere in the world.

According to a new report published by PreciseSecurity details, China leads the world in CCTV cameras with 200 million installed.

The US follows behind China with 50 million, then it drops down to Germany with 5.2, and then the United Kingdom with 5 million. Japan follows the UK closely with nearly 5 million cameras, Vietnam with 2.6 million, France with 1.65 million, South Korea with 1.03 million, and the Netherlands with 1 million.

What is most interesting, though, since China has such an overwhelming population, the US actually comes first place with the “highest number of CCTV cameras per person in the world” with 15.28 cameras per 100 people, the report said.

China follows closely behind the US with 14.36 cameras per 100 people, and then the UK comes in with just 7.5 CCTV cameras per 100 people. Other top 10 countries include Germany with 6.27 cameras per 100 individuals, Netherlands 5.8, Australia 4, Japan 2.72, France 2.46 and South Korea 1.99, the report said.

Eight of the top 10 cities with the largest number of CCTV cameras are located in China. The top three cities are Shanghai with 2,985,984 cameras, followed by Chongqing with 2,579,890 units and Shenzhen with 1,929,600 surveillance devices.

The top 10 includes Tianjin (1,244,160), Beijing (800,000), Guangzhou (684,000), London (627,707), Ji’nan (540,463), Wuhan (500,000) and New Delhi (179,000), the report said. These top ten cities have an average of 14.35 million citizens, which means they are large cities that must be controlled and surveilled.

India has reported data of 9 different cities that accumulate 274,784 surveillance cameras. New Delhi, Chennai, and Pune were the cities that reported the largest number of CCTV cameras with roughly 179,000, 50,000 and 11.29,000, respectively.

Meanwhile, cities that reported in the US included Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Washington D.C., San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, Houston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Miami, Dallas, and Los Angeles. Nonetheless, many other cities remained outside of the list, the report said.

Chicago had 35,000 cameras, followed by New York with 11,000 reported cameras, Atlanta with 7,800 and Washington DC, 4,000.

According to the South China Morning Post, the omnipresence of surveillance in China is designed to monitor traffic, prevent petty theft in restaurants and supermarkets, and monitor public safety in parks and shopping malls, the report said.

China’s national surveillance system, called the Skynet Project, equipped the country with more than 20 million cameras dedicated to “live surveillance and recording” and millions more are expected to be added by 2020, according to a 2017 report by Chinese state media.

Local authorities have also deployed their own systems in certain areas, including kindergartens, restaurant kitchens, and even inside taxis. Research firm IHS Markit estimated that the country’s entire surveillance network had over 170 million cameras in use in 2017 and that the number next year would reach 600 million.

China’s surveillance system scans facial features of people on the streets from frames of video footage in real time, creating a virtual map of the face. Credit: TecnoHotel.

However, while countries are strengthening surveillance for security reasons, there has been resistance from citizens who feel that their privacy is being invaded, SCMP reported.

The American Civil Liberties Union has argued that although the US Constitution offers some protection against video surveillance searches conducted by the police, there are “no general, legally enforceable rules to limit privacy invasions and protect against abuse of CCTV systems.”

China’s surveillance system scans facial features of people on the streets from frames of video footage in real time, creating a virtual map of the face, The Guardian reported.

It can then match this information against scanned faces of suspects in a police database. If there is a match that passes a preset threshold, typically 60% or higher, the system immediately notifies officers.

Qiu Rui, a policeman in Chongqing, was on duty this summer when he received an alert from a facial recognition system at a local square. There was a high probability a man caught on camera was a suspect in a 2002 murder case, the system told him.

Three days later the police captured the man, who eventually admitted that he was the suspect.

Cases such as this, where facial recognition systems are used to help local police crack crime cases, are not unusual in the south-west China city, with 2,579,890 units.

Meanwhile, a Toronto-area businessman with close ties to Beijing is looking to implement the technology in Canada this month, prompting concern from privacy and human-rights activists.

Wei Chengyi, owner of the Foody Mart grocery chain, confirmed the company is considering introducing payment by Chinese-made facial recognition devices at its stores in Ontario and B.C., and suggests the firm is just moving with the times, The National Post reported.

The payment systems capture an image of the shopper’s face which is then linked to his or her account, enabling the person to make a purchase simply by looking into a camera — no card, cash or phone needed. It could be the first such use of the technology by a North American retailer.

Foody Mart is planning to buy the system from SnapPay, a Toronto firm that distributes Chinese payment gear from tech giants Tencent and Alibaba, Ryan Li, another company executive, told Yahoo Finance recently.

“If it has use in the market, our company will use it,” Wei told the National Post in an e-mail. “Because society moves forward and we will follow it.”

As honorary chair of the Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations, Wei is a longtime friend of China’s government.

But human-rights advocates say they’re worried that a pro-China entrepreneur is looking to bring the technology to Canada.

“Perhaps Mainland Chinese immigrants are attuned to this kind of payment, but I smell trouble ahead,” said Cheuk Kwan of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China. “I don’t want to sound alarmist, but this is another insidious and on-the-surface-innocent way China is slowly encroaching on our society.”

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