Zimbabwean based water meter supply company, Brains at Work Consulting (Private) Limited has been given authorisation by a Chinese company, Clou Global to distribute facial recognition software in Africa including Zimbabwe as part of efforts to combat the global pandemic, Coronavirus.   

This facial recognition software, which will come along with a temperature scan, is a technology that learns the unique features of an individual’s face and has the ability to recognise each person’s face based on the slight differences and unique features of each face.

The software can support live anti-counterfeiting, based on facial biometric recognition and it cannot be replaced and copied to prevent counterfeiting operations, according to Brains at Work.

It does this through dynamic face recognition technology, biomechanical face recognition and all kinds of subtle changes of faces can be recognized while accuracy rate reaches 99.8 percent.

“This technology is useful especially to track down those individuals who run away from quarantine centres. It is sad some people run away from these centres and end up infecting others in suburbs or in town. With this technology an institution is able to identify these people,” Witker Tholana, Brains at Work chief executive officer told Biztech Africa.

“Our core-business is smart metering devices and systems integration so this is in-line with our business by virtue of it being a smart system that always requires integration on the part of certain clients. Our major concern is mitigating the risks of Coronavirus, other benefits of the system are coming as peripheral benefits.”

The respiratory disease has claimed the lives of over 100 people while infecting more than 3 100 in the southern African nation, according to the Health Ministry.

There have been reports of people running away from quarantine centres while interacting with the public in both rural and urban areas.

He said this system is suitable for hotels, automatic gates, office buildings, schools, public services and other places where face recognition systems and body temperature measurement are required.

The system supports other access control tools including that a business can use its swipe security cards with the system and can be procured online. “We have some banks that have already shown interest in the technology,” said Tholana.

Clou Global’s facial recognition system technology is a first venture on the continent and it has already been rolled out in Mozambique and Nigeria and is expected to rapidly be deployed in other African nations.

Tholana said going into the future the system will be of great use long after the respiratory disease is over, as it can be used on other health related issues as well as using it as a security and attendance register.

But there are fears that this technology could be abused by authorities to monitor citizens considering the country does not have a data privacy law currently in place.

The Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill, that seeks to consolidate cyber related offences and provide for data protection with due regard to the Declaration of Rights under the Constitution and the public and national interests, is still before Parliament and is yet to be signed into law.

Tholana said the system can be configured to capture pictures of people with abnormal temperature only. “Well, in terms of data privacy, a company using this technology can choose not to store the pictures. There is an option to disable storing of pictures,” he said. 

Section 57 of the Zimbabwean Constitution guarantees every person’s right to privacy, this also means that every person has a right to have their data adequately protected from abuse and any form of misuse.

This is not the first time Zimbabwean institutions enter into agreement with Chinese firms on facial recognition technology as in mid-March in 2018 City of Harare announced the smart city initiative with Chinese telecom giant, Huawei to introduce the software to monitor traffic in Harare and it was backed up by President Emmerson Mnangagwa led government.

In March 2018, Mnangagwa and his delegation signed a strategic partnership with Guangzhou-based startup Cloudwalk Technology Company for the government to utilise facial recognition technology to improve its law enforcement capabilities and strengthen security in the country.

To date the City of Harare and the government are yet to put in place this facial recognition technology in the country.

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