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South Korea is currently one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. As the country with the highest internet penetration at 82.7% and home to the world’s first virtual supermarket, the Republic of Korea works hard to be at the forefront of innovation. Naturally, this goal means that Korea is already working to find ways to effectively utilize artificial intelligence.
Most recently, the South Korean government announced that they will be employing technologies such as an AI-based facial recognition system in order to improve the management of access to public buildings within the country.
These upgrades are currently being tested in three buildings within the Sejong government complex. Previously, the system was already using facial recognition and public servant ID cards to authenticate visitors. Now, this verification occurs through AI-based facial recognition that is trained on pre-labeled data.
The Korean Ministry of Interior and Safety has said that this new system will eliminate the step of verifying public servant ID cards. Consequently, this will minimize the amount of face-to-face contact and prevent the spread of infection and disease within the country.
This change to prioritize security while preventing the spread of COVID-19 is indicative of the way South Korea has handled the pandemic from the very beginning. The government has been willing to make major changes to infrastructure in order to avoid imposing a strict lockdown that could negatively affect the economy.
However, the morality of these changes is questionable.
South Korean government agencies have been harnessing surveillance camera footage, smartphone location data and credit card purchase records to trace the recent movements of COVID-19 patients and establish contact tracing.
In January of 2020, South Korean authorities began posting location histories on each person who tested positive for COVID-19. The site has included details ranging from when people left for work to the name of the stations where they frequented trains. All of this information was posted without individual consent, but it was supposed to be anonymous.
Unfortunately, the information didn’t stay that way. When the data was first posted in January, internet mobs exploited the data to identify people by name and harass them. Since then, health officials have promised that they will refine their data-sharing guidelines to minimize the risk of another privacy invasion.
“We will balance the value of protecting individual human rights and privacy and the value of upholding public interest in preventing mass infections,” said Jung Eun-kyeong, the director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an interview with the New York Times.
Artificial Intelligence is one of the hottest sectors in technology right now. A Stanford University report written in Forbes shared a variety of data showing increased usage and need for ML/deep learning related tools. For example, the report said that from 2015 to 2018, active AI startups increased by 1.3 times. Furthermore, it also said that from 2015 to 2017, the number of job openings requiring deep learning have increased by 35 times.
This information contextualizes the South Korean government’s decision to implement AI-based facial recognition. As a government that works hard to implement the newest technologies, it makes sense that it would integrate this technology into its administration.
Having caused millions deaths, the COVID-19 pandemic is a major concern for governments all across the world. It is essential that governments like South Korea continue to make changes to ensure that the spread of the virus can be contained. However, these changes are impacting identity technology as well, encouraging individuals to think about how much privacy they are willing to give up for safety.
That being said, it is also essential that the privacy of individuals be upheld. The Korean government’s decision to use the increasingly controversial and popular AI-based facial recognition technology is symbolic of a larger trend across the world toward artificial intelligence, making it a compromising game for governments to find a balance between human rights and public safety.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Sarah Raza is a Tech Innovation Fellow with a background in computer science from Stanford. She is passionate about exploring the implications of increased usage of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Contact Sarah Raza at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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