The Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) yesterday said that it would not activate the facial-recognition feature of its new smart surveillance system after lawmakers voiced their concerns over privacy issues.
The railway operator on Tuesday announced that it would soon start testing a smart surveillance system at Fengyuan Railway Station in Taichung.
The company said that the system would be mainly used to ensure the safety of passengers in and around railway stations — including detecting any intrusion onto the railway tracks and other restricted areas, abnormal loitering of individuals on the platforms or inside buildings, and suspicious packages — but lawmakers raised concerns that the facial-recognition technology would infringe on people’s privacy.
Photo: Ou Su-mei, Taipei Times
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Ko Chih-en (柯志恩) said that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration has been critical of China for abusing human rights through the use of facial-recognition systems.
Ko asked if the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) had learned from China by installing the technology to control the public.
DPP legislators sparked controversy in 2017 when they proposed a change to the Household Registration Act (戶籍法) that would legalize the use of iris-recognition systems by offices, Ko said.
The KMT caucus would have strongly opposed the use of facial-recognition technology if the TRA did not acceptably define the conditions under which the technology would be used, Ko said, adding that she was glad that it had decided not to activate the functionality.
KMT Legislator Jason Hsu (許毓仁) said that the Hollywood movie Enemy of the State shows how a government could control people through the mass collection of data and monitoring their whereabouts using surveillance devices.
“China has used surveillance devices to enforce a social credit rating system, while Hong Kong uses the devices to monitor pro-democracy protesters. Is it not strange that what DPP is planning to do is also what China is doing?” Hsu said.
Constitutional interpretations by the Council of Grand Justices have determined that the police cannot stop and frisk individuals without a legitimate reason, and that people have the right not to be monitored in public places, Hsu said.
However, the facial-recognition technology would enable the government to monitor people closely, like “watching goldfish in a transparent fish tank,” he said.
Following the criticism, the Taiwan Railways Administration said that it would not activate the facial-recognition technology, nor would the Railway Police Bureau.
“We will continue to build an environment that is friendly to all railway passengers while ensuring the safety of the transportation system,” the company said.
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