Leaving the house in your pajamas to get groceries. We’ve all done it. But it’s uncivilized behavior, according to bureaucrats in the Chinese city of Suzhou. To shame its citizens out of such barbarity, on Monday the Suzhou City Management Bureau published images of seven citizens out and about in their PJs on its WeChat account, as reported by Chinese publication The Paper. The post was deleted on Tuesday.
The images of these citizens were captured using AI-powered CCTV cameras that are able to recognize faces and link them to the names of citizens, reports the New York Times. There are hundreds of millions of such facial recognition-equipped cameras around China — it’s been estimated that over 600 million will be in operation by the end of this year.
“Uncivilized behavior refers to when people behave and act in ways that violate public order because they lack public morals,” read the now deleted WeChat post, according to the New York Times. “Many people think that this is a small problem and not a big deal… Others believe public places are truly ‘public,’ where there is no blame, no supervision and no public pressure.
“This has brought about a kind of complacent, undisciplined mind set.”
The post shamed 15 people in total, for activities including playing cards and lying down in public, according to the newspaper. Suzhou is no small town: It has over 10.7 million citizens.
“Facial recognition technology, if it is to be used at all, should only be used if there is a legitimate aim and purpose, and if there are safeguards around privacy and data collection,” William Nee, China analyst at Amnesty International, said to CNET. “Shaming people for wearing pajamas is not a legitimate aim, but a total misuse of the technology.”
“While this can seem like just a cute story, it actually lays bare some of the most profound risks to human rights posed by facial recognition technology. It should be a wake up call to reexamine and debate whether we want to live in societies armed with this sort of powerful surveillance capabilities on every corner.”
It’s not the first time Chinese officials used the power of AI-equipped CCTV cameras to embarrass citizens. In Shenzhen, a city that borders Hong Kong, local government used the technology to put the face and names of jaywalkers on a digital billboard. But the surveillance tech has more insidious uses: Like tracking China’s 11 million Uighur Muslims.