Skip to main content

Biometric surveillance grows through COVID-19

by Futures Centre, Oct 2
2 minutes read

The global pandemic has enabled an exponential increase in biometric surveillance applications under the guise of public security. SenseTime, a Chinese AI giant specialising in biometric data surveillance technology, is experiencing rapid growth through COVID-related applications, in spite of a backlash against ubiquitous surveillance and being blacklisted by the US. The company is considering an IPO of US$ 10 billion after an initial funding round, says Reuters.  

selective focus photography of iPhone taking photo

In February 2020, Thailand was the first country to pilot a biometric border control system with integrated fever detection. In March, Israel introduced emergency regulations to allow mass location tracking of citizens to slow the spread of the disease, by enforcing social isolation and tracking cases. In May, a European civil society rights group called for a ban on biometric mass surveillance, claiming that it is becoming ubiquitous in public spaces. 

So what? 

The implications for personal freedoms and human rights are severe. In the Chinese province of Xinjiang, mandatory health checks have been used to detain or severely restrict the movement of Uighurs, through facial recognition blacklists. In China, biometric data can be linked to its social credit scheme, restricting opportunities and access to services to favoured individuals. A draft proposal by Chinese regulators recommends that collectors of personal information (PI) obtain consent but acknowledges that this is largely impractical given the scale of mass monitoring.

Biometric data collection tools include facial recognition, body temperature detection, DNA swabs, iris and face scans, fingerprints and voice signatures. Official data collection points for biometrics are proliferating: from civil identification and border control, to daily health checks including tests for COVID-19 and temperature scans, and increasingly for public security with protesters in Hong Kong a recent target. Mass collection also takes place through street cameras, personal devices, as well as in workplaces and schools, with a surge in new technology

While mobile operators in Europe have complied with requests for anonymised data to support tracking, China is developing a ‘National AI Team’ of companies, including Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and SenseTime, that will share data and support AI ecosystem development, in return for access to projects and public resources. 



by Futures Centre Spotted 1994 signals

Have you spotted a signal of change?

Register to receive the latest from the Futures Centre.
Sign up

  • 0
  • Share

Join discussion

Related signals

Our use of cookies

We use necessary cookies to make our site work. We'd also like to set optional analytics cookies to help us improve it. We won't set optional cookies unless you enable them. Using this tool will set a cookie on your device to remember your preferences.

For more detailed information about the cookies we use, see our Cookies page.

Necessary cookies

Necessary cookies enable core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility. You may disable these by changing your browser settings, but this may affect how the website functions.

Analytics cookies

We'd like to set Google Analytics cookies to help us to improve our website by collecting and reporting information on how you use it. The cookies collect information in a way that does not directly identify anyone. For more information on how these cookies work, please see our 'Cookies page'.