Taiwan Railways backtracks on facial recognition system

The system was to be implemented to fight crime but received criticism for breaching privacy

TRA Fengyuan Station (TRA website photo)

TRA Fengyuan Station (TRA website photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – In a policy reversal, Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) has announced it will drop its plan to implement a facial recognition system across the transport network over privacy infringement concerns.

The smart image monitoring system, which cost nearly NT$26 million to develop, was trialed on Tuesday (Nov. 5) at Fengyuan Station (豐原站), in the central municipality of Taichung. The system sought to prevent crimes that could disrupt the railway network, such as the bombing on a train headed for Songshan Station in Taipei in July 2016 that caused 25 injuries.

According to TRA, the biometric artificial intelligence-based system is capable of alerting station staff about irregularities that could harm the public or disrupt train operations. It can identify people on police watch lists, spot individuals loitering in specific areas, detect track intrusion events, and identify suspicious objects, as well as abnormal human or animal movements, TRA said.

Less than one day after the scheme was launched, however, it has been met with opposition from the public over privacy intrusion fears and prompted legal concerns. In response, the railway administration on Wednesday (Nov. 6) removed the facial recognition feature from the system while pledging a more efficient response to emergencies.