The surveillance society

Beijing has begun using gait recognition technology developed by Chinese company Watrix, which is able to identify people at a distance of up to 50 meters, even if their faces are covered or they are not looking toward the camera, based on how somebody walks. The technology analyzes the movement of the whole body and the company says its technology can recognize people even if they try to move or walk differently.

Gait analysis now joins facial biometric models, which only work relatively close up to a subject, allowing authorities to take samples of how people walk using data from the vast number of cameras located in public places in China. Technology joins the arsenal of tools available to a government that long ago decided to monitor its population, a model that to many in the West points to a dystopian future, but is now part of everyday life in China. Gait analysis has long been seen as an identification tool, even without camera, using for example smartphone accelerometers.

When a technology of this type is used by the authorities in a country the size of China, its use by other nations is simply a matter of time. What are the consequences of using a portfolio of technologies that allow anyone to be identified at any time quickly and accurately? Throughout the world, biometrics is transforming human societies and giving rise to all kinds of changes: in India, fingerprints and facial recognition identification are used for payment or contracting services, through a controversial system that has led to a redefinition of the concept of privacy, but which the government says is a valid way to integrate and give rights to people living in rural communities, many of whom are still unregistered.

Do we now have no choice but to accept that, in the near future we will be monitored and identified at all times using cameras and other types of technologies? Our smartphones, now on our person at all times allows, gives our location and is routinely used by the police. How does our perception of our society change when we have little option but to accept that everything we do is going to be monitored by our smartphones or the cameras that installed in practically all public places in our cities? How do we balance privacy and security in a society where technology is redefining them both at light speed? Are we completely sure about the consequences of living in societies where all our movements are monitored at all times?

(En español, aquí)