South Korea Providing Millions of Photos to Facial Recognition Researchers

Published · Nov 21, 2021

The South Korean Ministry of Justice has reportedly given over 150 million photos to facial recognition researchers. The images are of foreign and S. Korean nationals who have traveled through the country’s airports. However, the government has handed them over without the subjects’ consent.

Critics of the practice are calling it a human rights disaster. The co-operation between the government and facial recognition researchers was first reported in the newspaper The Hankyoreh.

It came to light after National Assembly member Park Joo-min requested documents related to an “AI identification and tracking system development project.” The photos were given to researchers along with the subjects’ nationalities, ages, and genders.

In total, the government gave researchers the data of 120 million foreigners and 57.6 million South Koreans. The stated purpose is to develop a system that would speed up background checks for immigration. It would also help establish something similar to a people search database to flag any troublesome entrants.

Figuring Things Out

Facial recognition has the potential to be extremely useful and speed up a lot of processes. However, it is a threat to privacy and the type of tech that can get out of control. World governments appear to be weighing the benefits and downsides of facial recognition.

The EU passed a resolution to heavily restrict the use of this tech. In addition, the Australian government ordered Clearview AI, infamous for its facial recognition projects, to cease operations in the country.

South Korea’s encouragement of facial recognition is unprecedented in scale, especially considering it did not ask for consent.

In the short term, it appears National Assembly members will be scrutinizing the project, which could see some much-needed improvements to how it goes about collecting data.

Garan van Rensburg
Garan van Rensburg

Garan is a writer interested in how tech reshapes the environment, and how the environment reshapes tech. You'll usually find him inoculating against future shock and arguing with bots.