10,820 cameras engaged. . .
One of South Korea’s most densely populated cities, Bucheon, located on the edge of Seoul, will launch a pilot project that uses 10,820 closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to track the movement of people infected with COVID-19. The project will also help identify carriers’ close contacts and check if infected residents are wearing masks. The Ministry of Science and Information and Communications Technology-approved project will launch next month. The C$1.75-million system will use artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms and facial recognition technology (FRT) to analyze CCTV footage.
Perks of using AI and FRT in combating COVID-19 . . .
South Korea already uses credit card records and mobile phone location data, among other personal information, to track individuals, and it uses an app to help manage people in self-isolation. However, these operations require many epidemiological investigators who often have to work 24-hour shifts. This new AI project could help reduce the strain on contact tracing teams. Along with the ability to simultaneously track up to 10 people within 5-to-10 minutes, the system can correct for gaps in COVID-19 patients' testimonies about their whereabouts and is expected to increase efficiency, speed, and accuracy of contact tracing.
Privacy concerns prevail . . .
South Korea’s stance on controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the face of privacy issues has fuelled a contentious debate. Due to the MERS virus outbreak in 2015, lawmakers loosened digital privacy laws. Authorities now have access to personal data during outbreaks without court approval. Opponents of the new AI/FRT system express concerns about the dangers of monitoring and invading people’s privacy via CCTV without their prior consent. Although authorities claim that the system places a ‘mosaic’ over the faces of anyone who is not a subject, it remains unclear whether the system would rely on a national or regional database of photos of citizens to identify cases and their close contacts. While South Korea is not the first country to propose this type of initiative in response to the pandemic, it brings forward conversations about privacy and citizens’ rights.
- BBC: Facial recognition beats the Covid-mask challenge
- Columbia Journal of Transnational Law: Privacy Risks in Using Facial Recognition for Contact Tracing
- Reuters: S.Korea to test AI-powered facial recognition to track COVID-19 cases