Bucheon COVID-19 facial recognition tracking pilot triggers privacy backlash

Occurred: December 2021

The city of Bucheon in South Korea sparked controversy with a pilot project to use AI-based facial recognition technology and surveillance cameras for contact tracing of COVID-19 patients. 

The system, funded by the Ministry of Science ICT and the local government, used AI algorithms to analyse footage from over 10,000 security cameras and could track an infected person’s movements, their close contacts, and whether they were wearing a mask. 

The system aimed to reduce the time and resources needed for contact tracing. The programme prompted digital rights and privacy experts to express concerns hat sensitive personal data was being shared with the unnamed private company building the datasets and developing the algorithm without first obtaining permission from the people appearing in the CCTV footage

Some also expressed fears that the system might be used for undeclared purposes.

October 2021. South Korea's justice and immigration authorities came under fire for sharing the facial images and personal details of approximately 170 million travellers without their consent.

System 🤖

Operator: City of Bucheon
Developer: Unknown
Country: S Korea
Sector: Govt - heath
Purpose: Track COVID-19 infected individuals
Technology: Facial recognition; Gait recognition; Mask recognition
Issue: Privacy; Scope creep/normalisation; Dual/multi-use; Surveillance
Transparency: Governance; Privacy