Seoul bridge AI suicide detection raises privacy concerns

Occurred: June 2021

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The use of AI by the Seoul Metropolitan Government to detect and prevent suicide attempts on the Han River raised concerns that the project may encroach on personal privacy.

With the highest suicide rate of any OECD country, a rate that accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities in the South Korean capital Seoul have been operating a 24-hour CCTV-based suicide surveillance and response system since 2012 on bridges over the Han River. 

To help reduce the number of suicides, and better spread resources, Seoul's Institute of Technology (SIT) and Seoul Fire and Disaster Headquarters started using machine learning to alert them to the scenes most likely to require intervention.

However, the intiative alarmed some privacy experts, who warned it could violate the privacy of people using bridges across the Han River, especially given the lack of public signage. Others expressed fears that the system could be used for other surveillance-related purposes in the future.


Operator: Seoul Metropolitan Government
Developer: Seoul Institute of Technology (SIT); Seoul Fire and Disaster Headquarters (SFDH)
Country: S Korea
Sector: Govt - municipal
Purpose: Reduce suicides
Technology: CCTV; Computer vision; Machine learning
Issue: Privacy; Dual/multi-use; Surveillance
Transparency: Governance

Page info
Type: Issue
Published: June 2021
Last updated: January 2022