South Korea sends over 170 million photos of travelers’ faces to a facial recognition company

South Korean Airport

Six civic groups in South Korea have come together to oppose the government’s alleged decision  to send the personal data of foreign and local travelers to a facial recognition company.

A human rights violation: Local civic groups  condemned the South Korean Ministry of Justice for sending over 170 million images of foreign and Korean nationals without their consent, reported The Hankyoreh.

  • The facial photos were reportedly captured during the immigration screening process as travelers passed through local airports. 
  • Advocates for Public Interest Law, MINBYUN – Lawyers for a Democratic Society, the Institute for Digital Rights, the Joint Committee with Migrants in Korea and the Korean Progressive Network Jinbonet called the project a direct violation of the country’s Personal Information Protection Act, which protects individuals by imposing limits on the handling of their personal information.
  • “It’s unheard-of for state organizations — whose duty it is to manage and control facial recognition technology — to hand over biometric information collected for public purposes to a private-sector company for the development of technology,” said Lawyers for a Democratic Society.
  • The Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Science and ICT initiated the project in 2019 in a bid to set up a facial recognition system powered by artificial intelligence to identify airport visitors.

A project uncovered: Details about the project surfaced after National Assembly member Park Joo-min acquired documents from the Ministry of Justice as he was looking into an April 2019 project titled “Artificial Intelligence and Tracking System Construction Project,” according to VICE.

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  • Based on the obtained information, a private company secretly  created an advanced immigration screening system using the collected biometric data to “automatically identify airport users’ identities through CCTV surveillance cameras and detect dangerous situations in real time.
  • In a joint press statement, the local civic groups urged the South Korean government to “immediately stop the establishment of a biometric monitoring system that is not only illegal but also significantly violates international human rights norms.” 
  • The groups also requested a meeting with Justice Minister Park Beom-kye to discuss a possible strategy to stop the project.
  • Despite opposition from the concerned groups, the project appears to be continuing as scheduled until its supposed completion in 2022.  

Featured Image via Seoul Walker

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