In the not too distant future, surveillance cameras sitting atop over 100,000 lampposts in Singapore could help authorities pick out and recognise faces in crowds across the island-state.
The plan to install the cameras, which will be linked to facial recognition software, is raising privacy fears among security experts and rights groups. The government said the system would allow it to "perform crowd analytics" and support anti-terror operations. GovTech, the Singapore government agency in charge of a "Lamppost-as-a-Platform" pilot project scheduled to begin next year, has given companies until May to register their interest in providing technology for the network. Singapore says the project is part of a broader "Smart Nation" plan to use cutting-edge technology to improve people's lives and has pledged to be sensitive to privacy. Video surveillance networks are common in cities like London or New York. But Ian Wilson, a security lecturer at Australia's Murdoch University said he believed that Singapore's would be different in that it might involve extensive facial recognition technology. Such technology has become commonplace in Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
The government also hopes to use other sensors on the lamp posts to monitor air quality and water levels, count electric scooters in public places, and collect footfall data to aid urban and transport planning, GovTech said. Adam Schwartz, senior staff attorney at the U.S.-based rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, urged Singapore and other governments not to adopt facial recognition surveillance technology. He said he was concerned such technology could be turned on political opponents or used to curb free speech by deterring peaceful protest. Facial recognition technology typically allows authorities to match people picked up on cameras with those in databases. Yitu Technology, a Chinese company that has recently opened its first international office in Singapore, says its facial recognition platform is capable of identifying over 1.8 billion faces in less than 3 seconds. Singapore has a population of 5.6 million people.
Wilson, the security lecturer at Murdoch University, said that unlike cities like London or New York, Singapore did not have a high crime or terror-threat level that justified such surveillance capabilities. In its 2018 risk map published this week, AON, a professional services company, ranked the terror threat in Singapore as "low". The government says, however, that the country faces threats from both home-grown militants and foreign terrorists.