China’s ‘Harvard’ Installs Facial Recognition System to Track People Who Come on Campus

China’s controversial facial recognition system is now being used in some schools around the country, with Beijing’s top university doing its trial run on Wednesday.

Peking University, known as “China’s Harvard,” recently installed a high tech camera on its southwestern gate where students and staff need only to have their face scanned instead of showing their ID cards to security guards before entering the campus.

The new security system fits existing school policies in China where many of the top universities restrict the general public from visiting their campuses. The technology, which is backed up by a centralized national identity database, is widely implemented by the government in many public areas throughout the country.  

While Peking University uses the same system that local law enforcement uses to identify and catch criminal suspects, its database is based on the university ID photos of students and staff, its website revealed.

Peking University. Photo via Flickr / jwalsh (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The initial test encountered a minor glitch as a number of students were not recognized by the system, according to the South China Morning Post.

Peking University’s website later stated that the issue was caused by the pixels on photos of the university IDs, which did not match the photo resolution required for facial scans. The camera’s position outdoors also affected the images which could be overexposed during the day or underexposed at night.

Aside from the facial recognition camera installed at the campus entrance, the school has also previously installed about two dozen facial recognition devices outside some of its libraries, classrooms, student dormitories, gymnasiums and computer centers.

Peking University. Image via Wikimedia Commons / Peter Mooney (CC BY-SA 2.0)

But while the university’s use of the technology on campus has been welcomed by its students and faculty, other implementations, especially in state surveillance, have been met with criticism.

Netizens have widely condemned a secondary school’s use of facial recognition cameras to check pupils every 30 seconds if they were paying attention in class, with many criticizing it as “inhumane.”

The surveillance cameras used by the government to track the Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang have also drawn some backlash from human rights activists.

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