Facial recognition technology could be used in Hong Kong to fight crime, maintain national security: police chief Raymond Siu

Facial recognition technology could be used in Hong Kong to fight crime, maintain national security: police chief Raymond Siu

Hong Kong authorities have not ruled out the use of facial recognition technology to fight crime and maintain national security, but the city’s police chief has promised guidelines will be drawn up for using personal information gathered by a new network of eye-in-the-sky CCTV cameras.

Commissioner of Police Raymond Siu Chak-yee on Sunday said the government would install 615 CCTV cameras in the city by next month, the first phase of a plan to put up 2,000 by the end of the year.

“We are still in the preparation phase, but we will not rule out the possibility [of using facial recognition] as technological advancements can definitely help us be more effective in law enforcement and other areas,” he said.

“Citizens do not have to worry. Police will make use of these technologies to combat crimes, but we will do so lawfully.”

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Police commissioner Raymond Siu says the force will make more use of crime-busting CCTV cameras in the future. Photo: May Tse

Siu added that authorities were still in the early stages of identifying the circumstances where technology would be used, such as tracking suspects, and did not rule out using the information for cases involving national security.

He said the government had not decided how long surveillance footage would be stored and that the city would look at operational procedures used in other jurisdictions.

Siu argued that the installation of only 2,000 CCTV cameras was not enough for a densely populated city such as Hong Kong.

He compared the city with the UK, which started the installation of surveillance cameras in the 1990s and now had more than 7.3 million of them around the country, and Singapore, which had 90,000.

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“This is only the first phase,” Siu said. “We believe, in the future, there will be more than 2,000 cameras.

“We find that there is definitely a need to use this for increasing the level of safety and combating crimes.

“The use of surveillance cameras has been proven to be highly effective in maintaining security in other countries.”

Siu said the force would set up a surveillance system independent of existing ones installed by government bodies such as the Housing Department and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

He promised that the new cameras would only cover public areas and that the government would consult the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data about the protection of information.

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Warner Cheuk Wing-hing, the deputy chief secretary, first revealed the government’s plan to install 2,000 CCTV cameras in densely populated parts of the city and high-crime areas last month.

The announcement came a week before Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu announced a 30-day consultation exercise on proposed home-grown national security legislation to target treason, insurrection, sabotage, foreign interference, theft of state secrets and espionage.

Hong Kong is obliged under Article 23 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, to enact its own legislation banning a variety of national security offences.

The domestic legislation will work alongside the 2020 Beijing-imposed national security law designed to penalise acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

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