Upcoming Security Checks in Guangzhou Cause Privacy Concerns

Source: SCMP

The southern Chinese city of Guangzhou is upgrading security on its subway system, with 130 checkpoints to be built outside stations over the next two years.

The checkpoints will cover at least seven existing metro lines as well as those under construction in 2020, according to local newspaper Guangzhou Daily. The locations of 52 of the checkpoints, at 29 stations, have been announced while the remainder are still in the planning stage especially on lines running through older downtown districts where space is limited.

Once the checkpoints were in place, pedestrians using the systems underground walkways as well as subway passengers would be required to go through the checks, a Guangzhou Metro spokesman said.

No matter whether they are crossing or riding on the subway, as long as they enter the subway vicinity they will need to go through the checks, the spokesman said. We cannot tell specifically who is passing by and who is entering the station. If we give the green light to passengers, there might be a security breach.

The measures have received a mixed reaction from the public with some complaints about the impact on passengers of complicated checks, while others said it was important to maintain safety.

Does it mean when I go on the streets I have to walk around these areas? Its so inconvenient, a Guangzhou resident said.

Others questioned how effective the checks would be, especially during rush hour, as checkpoints are regarded as inefficient and not thorough enough to prevent someone getting around them if they really wanted to cause trouble. Cost was also a concern for residents.

In 2015, Southern Weekly estimated that subway security checks cost more than 130 million yuan (US$18.5 million) a year in the neighbouring city of Shenzhen, also in Guangdong province.

The news of a security upgrade for Guangzhous subway system follows an announcement in October that Beijing passengers would in future go through different levels of security checks, depending on how they were sorted through facial recognition, prompting a heated online debate over the increasing use of technology for social control.

In China, security checks in metro stations have gradually become mandatory since the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

A clause in Chinas counterterrorism law dictates that there should be security staff and matching equipment for aircraft, trains, boats, city railcars, public buses and other public transport systems to strengthen security checks and ensure safety.

However, the many upgrades to security checks often arouse controversy as people find the process tiresome and question its necessity. Latest hi-tech measures, such as facial recognition or deployment of cameras, also raise privacy concerns.