Video of a 5G-powered police chase triggers concern in China
5G means faster video streaming… and stronger surveillance
The promise of 5G -- currently rolling out slowly to consumers -- means faster video streaming, playing AAA console games on your smartphone, and having your refrigerator or car connected to the internet. But it also means that authorities will have more powerful tools for monitoring people, as demonstrated by one video in China.
A promotional video that features a Chinese policeman wearing 5G-connected AR glasses with facial recognition while chasing down a criminal is being shared on Weibo and WeChat. Many social media users are wondering if this is what their 5G future looks like.
In the video, an undercover policeman spots a criminal in the subway after his glasses recognize the person among a sea of passengers. (Does anything shout “undercover cop” more than wearing those dorky sunglasses in the subway?)
Even after the culprit dons a hat, wig and fake mustache and beard, the police quickly locate him by using images from cameras around the city. Then as he tries to escape on a bicycle, the officer with the glasses remotely deploys traffic spikes from a speed bump.
Both the glasses and the speed bump in the video have China Mobile’s logo on them. We asked China Mobile if the company is behind the video but have yet to hear back.
While making the rounds on Twitter, the video has not drawn much attention on Chinese social media. Those who did see it, though, seem worried.
“Is this ad promoting 5G or promoting terror?” one person asked in a Weibo post.
“This really is a horror movie,” another user commented.
“I thought Person of Interest released a new trailer,” another user joked, referring to the American TV drama in which the government uses an AI surveillance system to identify people planning acts of terrorism.
The concerns may not be unfounded. Even if China Mobile had nothing to do with the video, the technology presented in it does exist. Smart glasses are already being used by Chinese police, and China Mobile is working on using 5G to enhance the technology.
In April, China Mobile launched a “5G vertical command, prevent and control platform” with Zhejiang Police College. Police can use the system to deploy 5G-connected drones and autonomous boats for patrol. It also enables smart glasses equipped with facial recognition technology to instantly cross-check faces with a police database.
Local media also reported that both China Unicom and China Telecom have been working with police on similar systems. One China Telecom employee told local media that 5G-connected surveillance cameras allowed for clear images of drivers with identifiable clothing and facial expressions. Before, users might only see a rough figure, according to the employee.
The use cases presented in the video and by telecom companies appear benevolent, of course. Chinese authorities don’t have the cleanest record when it comes to using facial recognition, though, and that could be what people fear.
“Some people say, what are you afraid of if you haven’t committed a crime?” one Weibo user said in a comment with more than 200 likes. “But when they start using technology to do bad things, you will have nowhere to escape.”