China is putting facial recognition tech on millions of public cameras

In an effort to curb crime, China is upgrading about 170 million surveillance cameras with artificial intelligence and facial recognition software. China says it's a modern way to deal with crime, but others think the program is rife with privacy issues.

The software compares photo databases of Chinese citizens against images of potential suspects in security videos. If it thinks it has a match, it pulls up additional information police collected about those suspects, like addresses, medical records, travel bookings and even comments on social media.

SEE MORE: Facial Recognition Systems Can Identify Criminals, But Do They Work?

China says the system is so good at finding people that it could eventually predict where a crime might happen. When one BBC reporter tried to evade detection in a dense Chinese city, it took police only seven minutes to find him on their feed, locate him in real life and take him into custody.

What facial recognition technology looks like in practice:

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Facial recognition technology in China
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Facial recognition technology in China
Visitors experience facial recognition technology at Face++ booth during the China Public Security Expo in Shenzhen, China October 30, 2017. Picture taken October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip
A customer goes through facial recognition system to access a car for test driving, at Alibaba's new Tmall car vending machine in Shanghai, China December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT.
Facial recognition technology is shown at DeepGlint booth during the China Public Security Expo in Shenzhen, China October 30, 2017. Picture taken October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip
Facial recognition technology is shown at DeepGlint booth during the China Public Security Expo in Shenzhen, China October 30, 2017. Picture taken Octoberr 30, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip
A customer tries Alipay's facial recognition payment solution "Smile to Pay" at KFC's new KPRO restaurant in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A customer tries Alipay's facial recognition payment solution "Smile to Pay" at KFC's new KPRO restaurant in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA.
In this photograph taken on August 9, 2017 Chinese people cross a road in Shanghai. From toilet-paper dispensers to fast-food restaurants, travel and crime-fighting, China is taking the lead in rolling out facial-recognition technology. / AFP PHOTO / CHANDAN KHANNA / TO GO WITH STORY: China-lifestyle-economy-technology-security-facial, FOCUS by Peter STEBBINGS (Photo credit should read CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)
A customer stands for a facial recognition device at the check-out area of a JD.com Inc. Unmanned Convenience Store inside the company's headquarters in Beijing, China, on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017. JD.com is�China's second-largest online mall. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A teacher uses a machine which employs both fingerprint and facial recognition technology to check the identification of a student before a simulated college entrance exam in Handan in China's northern Hebei province on June 6, 2017. The simulated exam was held to familiarise students with the process to be used for annual college entrance exams which begin nationwide on June 7. Millions of students across China will take the exams. / AFP PHOTO / STR / China OUT (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photograph taken on August 9, 2017 a Chinese girl looks at the screen projecting pictures of people crossing the roads or offending traffic rules in Shanghai. From toilet-paper dispensers to fast-food restaurants, travel and crime-fighting, China is taking the lead in rolling out facial-recognition technology. / AFP PHOTO / CHANDAN KHANNA / TO GO WITH STORY: China-lifestyle-economy-technology-security-facial, FOCUS by Peter STEBBINGS (Photo credit should read CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)
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But some experts aren't convinced China's software is as good as the country claims. Tech leaders there say the software is more accurate than the FBI's; the bureau's facial recognition technology is only about 85 percent effective at making positive matches.

And other groups fear China's program isn't always used to stop crime. One Human Rights Watch report said the country can use the tech to spy on its own citizens and label political dissidents as criminals. Buzzfeed detailed a case where Chinese officials were said to monitor and intimidate a Muslim ethnic minority group accused of fueling domestic terrorism.

And the cameras aren't going away any time soon. China plans on installing 400 million more by 2020.

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