South Korea to use facial recognition to track COVID-19 patients | Science and technology news – Community News
Covid-19

South Korea to use facial recognition to track COVID-19 patients | Science and technology news

South Korea will soon roll out a pilot project to use artificial intelligence (AI), facial recognition and thousands of closed-circuit video cameras to track the movements of people infected with the coronavirus, despite concerns about the invasion of privacy.

The nationally funded project in Bucheon, one of the country’s most populous cities on the outskirts of Seoul, is set to become operational in January, a city official told Reuters news agency.

The system uses AI algorithms and facial recognition technology to analyze images collected by more than 10,820 security cameras and track the movements of an infected person, everyone they had close contact with and whether they were wearing a mask, according to a 110-page report. The city’s current business plan submitted to the Ministry of Science and ICT (Information and Communications Technology) and provided to Reuters by a parliamentary legislator who criticized the project.

Governments around the world have turned to new technologies and expanded legal powers to try to stem the tide of COVID-19 infections. China, Russia, India, Poland and Japan, as well as several US states, are among the governments that have rolled out facial recognition systems or at least experimented with facial recognition systems for tracking COVID-19 patients, according to a March report from Columbia Law School. in New York-York.

The Bucheon official said the system should reduce pressure on overworked tracking teams in a city of more than 800,000 people and help them use the teams more efficiently and accurately.

South Korea already has an aggressive, high-tech contact tracing system that collects, among other things, credit card information, location data from mobile phones and camera images.

South Korea has relied on advanced contact tracing system to keep COVID-19 under control [File: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters]

However, it still relies on a large number of epidemiological researchers, who often have to work round-the-clock shifts, frantically detecting and contacting potential coronavirus cases.

When bidding for national funding for the pilot project in late 2020, Bucheon Mayor Jang Deog-cheon argued that such a system would speed up detection.

“It sometimes takes hours to analyze a single” [piece of] CCTV images. The use of visual recognition technology will enable that analysis in an instant,” he said on Twitter.

The system is also designed to overcome the fact that investigation teams must rely heavily on the testimonials of COVID-19 patients, who are not always truthful about their activities and whereabouts, the plan said.

The Ministry of Science and ICT said it currently has no plans to expand the project to the national level. It said the goal of the system was to digitize some of the manual labor that contact tracers currently have to perform.

The Bucheon system can track up to 10 people simultaneously in five to 10 minutes, reducing the time spent on manual work tracing one person, which takes about half an hour to an hour, the plan says.

The pilot plans call for a team of about 10 employees at a public health center to use the AI-powered recognition system, the official said.

Bucheon received 1.6 billion won ($1.36 million) from the Ministry of Science and ICT and injected 500 million won ($420,000) from the city budget into the project to build the system, the Bucheon official said.

Big Brother

While there is widespread public support for existing invasive track-and-trace methods, human rights lawyers and some South Korean lawmakers have expressed concern that the government will retain and use such data well beyond the needs of the pandemic.

“The government’s plan to become a Big Brother under the pretense of COVID is a neo-totalitarian idea,” Park Dae-chul, a lawmaker from the main opposition People Power Party, told Reuters.

“It is absolutely wrong to monitor and control the public via CCTV with taxpayers’ money and without the consent of the public,” said Park, who provided the city plan to Reuters.

The Bucheon official said there are no privacy concerns as the system places a mosaic over the faces of anyone who is not a subject.

“There is no privacy issue here as the system tracks the confirmed patient under the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act,” the official told Reuters. “Contact tracers adhere to that rule, so there’s no risk of data wastage or invasion of privacy.”

Rules require patients to consent to the use of facial recognition, but even if they don’t consent, the system can still track them using their silhouette and clothing, the official said.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said such technology is legal as long as it is used within the realm of the disease control and prevention law.

The plan for AI-powered facial recognition comes as the country experiments with other uses of the controversial technology, from detecting child abuse in daycare centers to providing police protection.


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