China is building a mammoth facial recognition database with an aim to identify every single person in the country within seconds. The world's most powerful facial recognition system, which is being developed by security company Isvision based in Shanghai, will help identify 1.3 billion citizens within three seconds with 90 percent accuracy.
Launched by the Ministry of Public Security in 2015, the project, once completed, will help match a person's facial appearance with an ID photo. People familiar with the project have told South China Morning Post (SCMP) that "the system can be connected to surveillance camera networks and will use cloud facilities to connect with data storage and processing centres distributed across the country."
Technology, similar to the Chinese government's facial recognition database, is currently operating on a smaller level, but experts think that maintaining it at national level won't be easy as it will take at least 13 terabytes to store the portraits of all citizens. Authorities said it will take not more than 90 terabytes to store all the personal details of the people.
Chen Jiansheng, an associate professor at the department of electrical engineering at Tsinghua University and a member of the ministry's Committee of Standardisation overseeing technical developments in police forces, told SCMP that the system was being developed for security purpose.
He went on to say that the information stored in the database wouldn't be allowed to use for commercial purposes under "current regulations" but the policy could undergo changes in the future, as it could create new business opportunities.
However, Cheng Mingming, a professor of computer science at Nankai University in Tianjin, told the publication there is risk of data theft with today's technology enabling storage of 10 terabytes or more in a small portable hard drive.
"If the facial data and related personal information is stolen and put on the internet, it will cause big problems," Cheng said. He said that the technology will enable a stranger or organisation to take pictures in the streets and identify them without their knowledge.
On the other hand, a vendor for the Ministry of Public Security has claimed that data theft would be impossible, saying that downloading the data would be as difficult as "launching a missile with a nuclear warhead."