Gov’t promises more video surveillance and facial recognition in crime control

The Government of Macau today (Wednesday) promised to reinforce its commitment to video surveillance and to a controversial facial recognition system in the coming years, claiming that the strategy helped solve a large number of crimes.

In the presentation at the Legislative Assembly (AL) of the 2020 policy address for the area of ​​Security, Secretary Wong Sio Chak recalled that only in 2018 did video surveillance help in the investigation of more than 1,000 cases.

Legislator Pang Chuan, directly appointed by the Chief Executive, also indicated that surveillance cameras helped solve more than 2,400 cases in 2019

A volume of cases that, according to Wong Sio Chak, shows the effectiveness of the video surveillance system and justifies Macau’s bet on facial recognition.

The government official said that from 2022 onwards, it will move towards a reinforcement of chambers near educational establishments and in places of greater circulation of people, in the new landfill areas and at the border posts.

Something that according to the latest data from the authorities, should increase to 2,600 the number of video surveillance cameras in a territory of 30 square kilometers, with about 670,000 residents and that last year received almost 40 million visitors.

In the first quarter of this year, authorities planned to test “facial recognition software” in Macau in 50 manual view cameras (from the ‘Eyes in the Sky’ system), but the calendar is being affected by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, at a time in which the Government is awaiting an opinion requested from the Office for Personal Data Protection (GPDP).

The use of facial recognition has been the subject of debate in Macau, with critics saying it is a threat to the fundamental rights of the population.

Before the legislators, the Secretary also underlined that “the tendency for the development of cybercrime, the significant changes in the operation of criminal associations, the increased risk of cross-border crimes, the complexity of the maritime and coastal security environment and the instability brought about by illegal activities related to gambling posed challenges to law enforcement”.

On the other hand, Wong Sio Chak stressed that “the negative influences brought by pneumonia caused by the new type of coronavirus to the economy and life of Macau, as well as its consequences for the emergence of several conflicts of society, will cause many impacts to the stability and security situation in Macau”.

The priority in cybersecurity, smart policing and deepening cooperation with security forces in neighbouring regions are some of the priorities pointed out by the government official that extends to the fight against terrorism and illegal migration.

“This year, we are going to give priority to the legislative plan for civil protection,” he said, at a time when the Basic Law for Civil Protection remains to be approved, another controversial issue that has marked the political discussion since 2018.

After criticism, from associations of lawyers and journalists in the territory, who repeatedly warned of the risk of freedom of the press, the Government failed to propose criminalizing the spread of “false, unfounded and biased news, in the face of sudden incidents of public nature”.

In the new version, the Executive proposes less heavy prison sentences and clarified that both crime and deceit occur in situations of operational response from civil protection when the dissemination of false information can create a social panic.