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Facial recognition cameras in China snag man who allegedly stole $17,000 worth of potatoes

A worker installs a security camera in China last year. (Ng Han Guan/AP)

Facial recognition cameras at a sports stadium led to the arrest of a fugitive at a Jacky Cheung concert in China, making it the third time in two months that the technology was used to catch a wanted person there.

A man identified by the surname Yu was flagged among a crowd of 20,000 concertgoers after passing through security at the Jiaxing Sports Center Stadium in Zhejiang, an eastern coastal province, according to the South China Morning Post.

Yu has been under investigation since 2015 for allegedly stealing more than $17,000 worth of potatoes, the report said. After he entered the stadium, police were alerted to his presence. “A few minutes after he passed through the security checkpoint, our system issued a warning that he was a wanted person,” said Shen Yueguang, an official from the Nanhu District Public Security Bureau, according to Qianjiang Evening News.

Yu, who had been living under a pseudonym, was arrested by police as he was leaving the concert, the Morning Post said. But if Yu thought that a crowd of thousands of Cheung fans would offer anonymity, he wouldn’t be the first suspect in China to have gotten that wrong.

Last month a man wanted for “economic crimes” was arrested in Jiangxi province in southeast China after facial recognition cameras detected his presence at a Cheung concert attended by 60,000 people. Another man at a Cheung event in Fujian province was taken in by police earlier this month, according to the Morning Post.

The arrests underscore China’s growing enthusiasm for facial recognition technology. As part of a multi-year effort to construct a nationwide surveillance network, the Chinese government plans to integrate an array of camera systems that monitor roads, shopping malls, transportation hubs and buildings. Dubbed “Sharp Eyes,” the project aims to track suspects, predict crime and monitor the habits of the country’s 1.4 billion people.

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But it’s not just China advancing facial recognition surveillance and other such technologies in law enforcement. The FBI’s Next Generation Identification system also uses face recognition to match crime-scene images to a national database of mug shots. And the nation’s largest supplier of police body cameras is considering ways to tie in facial recognition tools, which could allow officers to scan and identify the faces of potentially any person they encounter while on patrol.

While the development of facial recognition technology by police could deliver enhanced identifying capabilities in real time, dozens of civil rights, technology and privacy groups have warned against the development of such products. Critics of facial recognition technology point to privacy implications, technical deficiencies and potentially life-threatening biases that can be found in the technology.