Watch Your Step: China Rolls Out New 'Gait Recognition' Surveillance Software

China has begun rolling out its newest "gait recognition" software, a high-tech surveillance system that can identify people solely based on someone's body shape and how they walk.

According to the Associated Press, the software can even positively identify a subject when their face is hidden from the cameras.

Gait recognition networks are already watching citizens on the streets of Beijing and Shanghai as the Communist Party continues apace with building an artificial-intelligence and data-driven security infrastructure.

Gait recognition systems are produced by Chinese company Watrix, whose CEO Huang Yongzhen told AP his cameras could identify people from 165 feet away, whether their face was visible or not.

"You don't need people's cooperation for us to be able to recognize their identity," Huang said. "Gait analysis can't be fooled by simply limping, walking with splayed feet or hunching over, because we're analyzing all the features of an entire body," he explained.

China is already using facial recognition technology across the country. The networks have been used to fine jaywalkers, punish dangerous drivers and even pick criminals out of crowds at festivals and concerts.

The Communist Party has established a sophisticated system for its surveillance cameras. Facial recognition cameras have even been hooked up to a database allowing the software to identify a suspect, find their contact details and send them a message detailing the appropriate fine.

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China already has sophisticated facial recognition software. A screen shows visitors being filmed by artificial intelligence (AI) cameras with facial recognition technology at an international public security exhibition in Beijing, on October 24. China has begun rolling out its newest “gait recognition” software, which can identify people solely based on their body shape and how they walk. NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images

But these cameras generally need close-up high-resolution images to work. Gait recognition software could help close the gap authorities need to identify a person of interest.

The Watrix system takes a person's silhouette from a video and uses it to create a model of how the subject walks. It takes around 10 minutes to scan through 10 minutes of footage, and Huang said it is 94 percent accurate. Though the system is not yet capable of identifying people in real time, Watrix said last month it has raised $14.5 million to advance its development program.

Already, officials in the restive western province in Xinjiang have expressed an interest in gait recognition technology, AP noted.

The Muslim population there is already living under invasive surveillance as the government attempts to undermine local religions and traditions and cultivate loyalty to Beijing. Authorities have used a host of technology to better control the population there, for example, placing QR codes on the outside of houses to allow inspectors to quickly access and gather information on residents.

Scientists in Japan, the U.K. and U.S. have all been exploring gait recognition software, but companies trying to commercialize the technology is rare, AP said—and China's focus on mass social control will certainly provide a potentially lucrative market.

Spending on domestic security has tripled over the past 10 years, The Telegraph said, topping $179 billion in 2017. This is the Golden Shield Project in action, Beijing's grand plan to develop a comprehensive and high-tech system to protect—and control—its 1.3 billion citizens.

But Huang noted that gait recognition need not be an entirely insidious "Big Brother" technology. It could, for example, be used to spot injured or elderly people in distress and help them faster, he suggested.