“A human rights disaster”: S. Korean civic groups demand government halt creation of AI facial ID and tracking system

Posted on : 2021-11-10 16:48 KST Modified on : 2021-11-10 16:48 KST
The Hankyoreh reported on Oct. 21 that the government had given a private-sector company more than 170 million facial photographs of Koreans and foreign nationals obtained in the immigration screening process to train its AI
Participants speak at a Tuesday press conference held in Jongno, Seoul, organized by the PSPD Public Interest Legal Center, MINBYUN’s Digital Information Committee, the Institute for Digital Rights, along with other civic groups, calling on the South Korean government to immediately halt its construction of an AI facial ID and tracking system. (Kim Tae-hyeong/The Hankyoreh)
Participants speak at a Tuesday press conference held in Jongno, Seoul, organized by the PSPD Public Interest Legal Center, MINBYUN’s Digital Information Committee, the Institute for Digital Rights, along with other civic groups, calling on the South Korean government to immediately halt its construction of an AI facial ID and tracking system. (Kim Tae-hyeong/The Hankyoreh)

The artificial intelligence identification and tracking system that the South Korean Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Science and ICT are seeking to develop using facial photographs of Koreans and non-Koreans represents an “unprecedented violation of people’s information rights,” say critics in civil society.

Groups including People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) and MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society are calling for the project to be immediately halted and are requesting to meet with the head of the Ministry of Justice.

The PSPD Public Interest Legal Center, MINBYUN’s Digital Information Committee, and the Institute for Digital Rights were among six civic groups that held a press conference about the issue at the PSPD headquarters, in Seoul’s Jongno District, on Tuesday.

“The project to build an AI identification and tracking system should be immediately halted for violating the Personal Information Protection Act and international human rights norms,” the groups said during the press conference.

Korea’s Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Science and ICT have been building the AI identification and tracking system since 2019 with the goal of setting up an AI facial recognition system for use in airport immigration control. After the Hankyoreh reported on Oct. 21 that the government had given a private-sector company more than 170 million facial photographs of Koreans and foreign nationals to train its AI, there has been an outcry about the government’s infringement on privacy rights.

These civic groups have described the project as a “shocking human rights disaster.”

“Facial information and other biometric data aren’t easily altered and are unique to the individuals concerned. If this data were to be leaked, it would constitute a devastating infringement upon their privacy. It’s unheard of for state organizations — whose duty it is to manage and control facial recognition technology — to hand over biometric information collected for public purposes to a private-sector company for the development of technology,” these groups said during the press conference.

Participants speak at a Tuesday press conference held in Jongno, Seoul, organized by the PSPD Public Interest Legal Center, MINBYUN’s Digital Information Committee, the Institute for Digital Rights, along with other civic groups, calling on the South Korean government to immediately halt its construction of an AI facial ID and tracking system. (Kim Tae-hyeong/The Hankyoreh)
Participants speak at a Tuesday press conference held in Jongno, Seoul, organized by the PSPD Public Interest Legal Center, MINBYUN’s Digital Information Committee, the Institute for Digital Rights, along with other civic groups, calling on the South Korean government to immediately halt its construction of an AI facial ID and tracking system. (Kim Tae-hyeong/The Hankyoreh)

The groups gave the Ministry of Justice an official request for a meeting with Justice Minister Park Beom-kye on Tuesday and said that Park must present a course of action to end the project. While Park said during a parliamentary audit of the ministry last month that “the project would be conducted at a minimum level to ensure personal information is not abused,” he has not expressed any intent to cancel the project.

“The US and the EU view AI facial recognition as a dangerous technology and have recently been developing measures to regulate remote monitoring systems that make use of biometric information. Civil society is waiting to hear a responsible answer from the Ministry of Justice that includes halting the project [to build] the AI identification and tracking system and the development of follow-up measures,” the groups said in their message to the Ministry.

By Cheon Ho-sung, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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