Editorial

Learn from China's 'Dragonfly Eye' to fight crime

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

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On Monday, this week, we were drawn by reports of China's investment in what it has said is “the world's biggest camera surveillance network”.

According to the Chinese authorities, 170 million closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras are already in place across that country and approximately 400 million new ones will be installed in the next three years.

The sheer volume of the network aside, what really stood out to us was the Chinese Government's revelation that many of the cameras are fitted with artificial intelligence, including facial recognition technology.

A report in the online edition of Britain's Daily Mail newspaper tells us that the system can identify criminals among a database of two billion faces within seconds. The system, the report says, is known as 'Dragonfly Eye' and it has already been used in Shanghai to track down hundreds of wanted criminals.

“The system has been helping Shanghai's police force track down criminals in a city with more than 24 million inhabitants,” the report states and points to a story in the South China Morning Post saying that “on its first day of operation in the Shanghai Metro in January, the system identified a wanted man when he entered a station. After matching his face against the database, Dragonfly Eye sent his photo to a policeman, who made an arrest.”

According to the report, in the following three months, the system helped police bring in 567 suspected criminals on Shanghai's subways.

Expectedly, human rights groups have expressed concern about the system, arguing that it represents an invasion of privacy and can be used by the State to target dissidents. The Chinese Government, though, has said it has no intention to abuse the system and has put forward the position that if people have nothing to hide there is no need to fear.

That debate, we expect, will continue for a long time. However, even the most ardent critic can't deny the value of a system like the Dragonfly Eye in the fight against crime.

The use of technology, we maintain, is vital in any anti-crime effort. Readers will recall that after the attempted bombings of July 21, 2005 in London, CCTV footage released by the Metropolitan Police aided in the arrests and eventual conviction of four men who had attempted to replicate suicide bombings that had killed 52 people two weeks earlier in that city.

We highlight these points against the backdrop of increasing incidents of crime in Jamaica, the most recent being the brazen daylight shooting of mourners outside a church in east Kingston during a funeral service on Sunday.

We are aware that CCTV cameras have already been mounted in a number of urban centres and that the support services associated with the system are in place. However, the country needs a lot more if we are serious about getting to the stage at which people will think twice about committing crimes.

Recently, National Security Minister Robert Montague assured the country that the Government is expanding its CCTV capacity and is spending $465.4 million on the purchase of additional telecommunications equipment. That can't happen too soon.

We reiterate that societies that are relatively safe experience the spin-off benefits of investments that translate into jobs which, in turn, lead to reduction in crime.

The Government needs to seriously press the gas pedal on this one.

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