New facial recognition system can identify people wearing coronavirus masks

Rob Waugh
A software engineer tests a facial recognition program that identifies people when they wear a face mask (Reuters)

A Chinese company has created new technology which can identify people with extremely high accuracy even if they are wearing coronavirus face masks.

China employs some of the world’s most sophisticated systems of electronic surveillance, including facial recognition, but in recent weeks, many people have begun to wear masks in public.

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Electronics manufacturer Hanwang (Hanvon) Technology unveiled the system, which uses body temperature as well as cameras, as masks become ubiquitous in China. 

Hanwang vice president Huang Lei told Reuters: “If connected to a temperature sensor, it can measure body temperature while identifying the person’s name, and then the system would process the result, say, if it detects a temperature over 38 degrees [celsius.”

The development lab of the Chinese electronics manufacturer Hanwang (Hanvon) Technology in Beijing (Reuters)

The Beijing-based firm said a team of 20 staff used core technology developed over the past 10 years, a sample database of about 6 million unmasked faces and a much smaller database of masked faces, to develop the technology,

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The system can identify everyone in a crowd of up to 30 people “within a second”, Huang said.

“When wearing a mask, the recognition rate can reach about 95%, which can ensure that most people can be identified.” 

A software engineer tests a facial recognition program (Reuters)

The success rate for people without a mask is about 99.5%.

In authoritarian regimes such as China, governments hope to use facial recognition cameras to track criminals. 

Police in China have used hi-tech ‘smart glasses’ which use facial recognition to pick out suspects in a crowd - and have already led to seven arrests. 

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Officers tested the equipment at a train station in the central city of Zhengzhou, and picked out seven suspects, accused of crimes from hit-and-runs to human trafficking. 

They also picked out 26 people with fake ID, using the classes which are connected to a database of suspects. 

Critics have already voiced fears that China’s communist party will use the glasses to identify dissidents.