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Hong Kong using AI to fight crime

Using artificial intelligence to combat cybercrime is rapidly becoming a reality and not just a science fiction idea, a report noted. The technology has been used by the Hong Kong customs authorities to crack down on online sales of fake goods for almost two years and may be extended to monitor the trafficking of drugs and cigarettes.

Given the extensive use of the internet nowadays, the application of artificial intelligence in criminal investigations makes sense.

With nearly one-third of the 103 fake goods cases in the first half of this year detected by a supercomputer, compared with just 12 per cent of 93 cases in the same period in 2018, effectiveness is beyond question.

By siphoning suspicious posts from a sea of messages on popular online platforms, the system enables the Customs and Excise Department to clamp down on the sale of counterfeit goods effectively.

Indeed, the use of AI for crime prevention and investigation is no longer a novelty in many places.

It is not uncommon for large corporations to make use of technology to detect cyberattacks and other irregularities.

In the mainland, facial recognition technology has become a tool effectively used to track down fugitives.

This is not to say that all law enforcers should be allowed to freely spy or intercept online communications. The idea of the authority monitoring cyberspace without limit is disturbing to many who are wary of the city becoming a police state. There is a danger that the relevant department may obtain more information than necessary for enforcement actions when snooping on the internet.

The Hong Kong Government was earlier forced to scale back on a multipurpose, closed-circuit camera surveillance system installation project in Kwun Tong because of privacy concerns.

That said, there is a case for crime fighters to take to cyberspace, especially as criminal activities are becoming more technologically sophisticated. As long as there are sufficient safeguards to strike a balance between effective law enforcement and the protection of individual rights, artificial intelligence in criminal detection is an inevitable trend.

As mentioned earlier, the Government is working alongside a Hong Kong tech start-up hopes to help prevent suicide attempts and violence in prisons through the use of artificial intelligence.

An earlier report by OpenGov Asia noted that the tech firm has developed a video analytics system for the city’s Correctional Services Department. The system uses AI-powered cameras which help detect suspicious behaviour among large numbers of inmates, including self-harm and fighting.

The system compares and analyses suspicious patterns of behaviour via camera images automatically and without human involvement. For example, gatherings of inmates or if a prisoner is standing next to windows with a rope or hitting their head against a wall. In such cases, the system will alert physical officers to the danger and they can make an intervention.

More than 40 cameras with the AI system were installed in February 2019 in Pik Uk Prison, a minimum-security prison in Hong Kong’s Sai Kung district, as part of a “smart prison” project and more cameras are expected to be rolled out to other institutions soon.

The company is also exploring the use of facial recognition in exercise yards and workshops, where the technology can monitor and manage a large group of inmates from a distance.

Apart from the video surveillance system developed by the tech firm, the Correctional Services Department is also testing smart wristbands to monitor the health of inmates and robotic arms to detect drugs in human faeces, under the “smart prison” initiative.

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