JAYWALKERS in China risk having their photographs and personal information made public to shame them for breaking the law.
Traffic management authorities in several Chinese cities have installed facial recognition equipment and screens at major intersections to tackle the problem.
Just last month in Jinan, capital of east China’s Shandong Province, cameras captured more than 6,000 cases involving pedestrians and cyclists crossing roads against red lights.
The facial recognition equipment takes several snapshots and a 15-second video when it detects pedestrians crossing intersections on a red light. The images immediately appear on the screen so the offenders can see they have been caught.
The photographs are then compared with the images in the provincial police department database and matches are checked by a police officer to confirm accuracy.
Within 20 minutes, the offenders’ photographs and personal information such as ID numbers and home addresses are displayed on the screen.
Traffic police then contact offenders and give them a choice of punishment — a fine of 20 yuan (US$3), a half-hour course on traffic regulations, or 20 minutes assisting police in controlling traffic.
Offenders’ information may also be published on social media, for example on the Jinan Traffic Police Weibo account. In future, police may also inform the offenders’ employers or residential communities of the violations.
“Since the new technology has been adopted, the cases of jaywalking have been reduced from 200 to 20 each day at the major intersection of Jingshi and Shungeng roads. Fewer people are crossing roads during red lights,” said Jinan traffic officer Li Yong.
Cities in the provinces of Fujian, Jiangsu, Guangdong and Shandong are also using the technology to catch jaywalkers.
Concerns about privacy
Facial recognition is becoming increasingly common in China, where it has been installed in ATM machines, KFC restaurants, university dormitories and even public toilets to save toilet paper.
However, the rapid and extensive application of the technology has also triggered public concerns about privacy.
The measures have value as they help traffic police deal with minor offenses that are rampant and hard to penalize, said Liu Guanghua, a law professor at Lanzhou University.
“However, law enforcement agencies should be careful to stay within the boundaries of the law. The use of personal information should be strictly controlled,” Liu said.
Other critics argue that many people have to cross roads illegally because they have limited rights of way in a country which had 300 million motor vehicles as of March.
“Traffic lights are designed to be more friendly to vehicles in China. I sometimes have to wait for at least three green lights before I can cross a road. It is the drivers who should be shamed on the screen,” was one Weibo user’s comment.
Another highlighted the width of city roads and that green lights change too quickly.