Hong Kong’s privacy tsar has said it was not consulted on the installation of thousands of new cameras across public transport and does not know whether such cameras can take photos of passengers.
In questions to the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, which handles all privacy concerns in the city, a spokesman said concerns were valid but that OGCIO had no further details as it was not involved with the installations.
“I presume they are using code scanners (for scanning codes) and not cameras. You may wish to check with them whether their implementations of such code scanning are privacy-friendly.”
Bus firm KMB responded that its cameras were only “barcode scanners” and not capable of recording people’s faces. But MTR, which began rolling out the cameras last December, has still not responded to questions posed weeks ago.
The AlipayHK cameras are becoming ubiquitous on Hong Kong transport, now seen across MTR, buses and even ferries. Yesterday ferry operator HKKF launched AlipayHK gates at four of its piers, including those serving Lamma Island and Peng Chau.
Earlier, OGCIO had refuted concerns, saying the scanners were not a “new phenomenon” and were probably similar to supermarket scanners, which they said had posed no privacy threat.
However, supermarket scanners tend to point down, with the camera lens out of sight of the face, while new scanners on buses, ferries and MTR have cameras pointing directly at passengers’ faces as they approach turnstiles or bus entrances. “You have a point,” said the OGCIO spokesman in response to this line of questioning, without elaborating.
One internet security consultant said concerns were overblown. Standard QR scanners have a very close focus range, they said, and were unlikely to be able to focus on faces three feet away.
According to internet security company Kaspersky, facial recognition cameras can pose a threat to freedom. The European Commission has said it’s considering a ban on facial recognition technology in public spaces for up to five years, to allow time to work out a regulatory framework to prevent privacy and ethical abuses.