South Korea uses facial recognition technology to track COVID-19


Bucheon City, with a population of 830,000, is a satellite city southwest of Seoul, South Korea that hosted a pilot program applying facial recognition and AI tracking technology to assist epidemiological investigators of COVID-19.

South Korea has been generally praised for its rapid response to tracking coronavirus patients since the start of the outbreak. People entering public facilities enter their information on a register or scan a QR code.

Furthermore, epidemiologists tracking outbreaks use a variety of data available to them, including log ins, electronic transaction data, cell phone location logs, CCTV footage, and interviews. However, the workload to do all of this can be overwhelming, while staff numbers are limited despite more recruiting efforts.

One investigator can take up to an hour to track the movements of a single patient. When the system went online earlier this year, it was supposed to be able to track a single patient in less than a minute, and handle up to ten concurrent tracings.

Quoted from Hackaday, the program official said there were no plans for the system to be extended to the whole of Seoul, or to a national scale. But with the virus caseload rising and difficulties recruiting and training investigators, it appears officials may be thinking about turning to the technology to keep up with the increased workload.

The application of this technology is not without obstacles. As with other facial recognition technology-based projects piloted at Incheon International Airport recently, people are concerned about the privacy implications of the technology. The assumption that the government tracks every movement of its citizens is also a scourge for South Koreans.

Meanwhile, the project's planner notes that the data is being legally collected and its use is subject to strict rules. Korean privacy laws require consent for the collection and storage of biometric data. However, there are exceptions to situations such as disease control and prevention.

But even if all privacy concerns are solved, there are still questions about how effective these AI systems are at tracking people wearing masks.

This problem does not only occur in South Korea and even Asia. Many countries around the world are turning to facial recognition technology and are experiencing similar difficulties balancing the security of user privacy and public health requirements.

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