Police Fire on Haitians Protesting Alleged Misuse of Oil Funds

Thousands of people protested across Haiti on Wednesday in sweeping anti-corruption demonstrations that coincided with a national holiday honoring one of the heroes of the country’s independence, Jean-Jacques Dessalines.

Police opened fire on demonstrators, injuring several, as the protesters threw rocks and set fire to tires, according to VOA Creole stringers in Port-au-Prince.

Protesters are demanding transparency from the government regarding the alleged misuse of $3.8 billion in oil profits.

The money, made by Haiti under the Petrocaribe oil alliance signed between Venezuela and Caribbean nations in June 2005, had been earmarked for infrastructure and social and economic projects.

Several audits have been done, with the results either failing to provide clear answers as to where the Petrocaribe funds went or showing that much of the revenue has been mismanaged, including being spent on construction projects that were not completed.

In November 2017, a special Haiti Senate commission also accused more than a dozen government officials in former President Michel Martelly’s administration of embezzling funds.

The results have angered citizens and sparked a series of nationwide protests.

Demonstrators demanded to know what happened to the oil revenue and called for the resignation of President Jovenel Moise.

“[October 17] is a day of deliverance for us. It’s a day to uproot poverty. It’s a day to uproot unemployment. So we’re asking everyone to hit the streets, because we can’t go on living with these problems,” a protester told VOA Creole.

Salnave Elyse, who heads RAMNE (Rassemblement Militan Nodes, a northeastern militant group), denounced the opposition’s plan to protest Wednesday.

“This movement isn’t really intended to help the people,” Elyse said. “This is a way for them to pursue their own goals. The real objective behind this Petrocaribe movement is to overthrow the government and replace it with their own cronies.”

He called on the police and law enforcement officials not to let that happen.

Earlier Wednesday, Moise, first lady Martine Moise and Prime Minister Jean Henry Ceant attended a ceremony marking the 212th anniversary of the assassination of Dessalines. A policeman was hurt at a wreath-laying ceremony when a protester threw a rock at him.

Meanwhile, in the suburb of Petionville, police fired warning shots and tear gas when protesters flooded the road leading to Moise’s private residence.

Large protests were also reported in Les Cayes, Jacmel, Jeremie, Mireballais, Gonaives, Petit Goave and Cape Haitian, where protesters chanted “Catch them! Lock them up!”

VOA Creole stringers Exalus Mergenat, Makenson Charles, Roney Innocente, Jean Hernst Eliscar, Clement Collegue and Wilner Cherubin contributed to this report. 

Brazil Far-right Candidate Backs Church Anti-abortion Stance

The favored candidate to be Brazil’s next president, far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro, on Wednesday signed a commitment to keep abortion illegal if he wins power, backing a stance by the influential Catholic Church.

The 63-year-old ex-paratrooper, a Catholic whose ultraconservative and law-and-order rhetoric has lifted him in the polls, signed the promise during a visit to see Brazilian Cardinal Orani Tempesta at Rio’s archdiocese. 

The document also reaffirmed Bolsonaro’s opposition to sex education material promoting acceptance of homosexuality in schools, and to decriminalizing drug use.

Bolsonaro is the frontrunner for an Oct. 28 run-off against leftist rival Fernando Haddad.

“We are signing a commitment defending the family, defending the innocence of children in the schools, defending the freedom of religion, against abortion and the legalization of drugs,” Bolsonaro said in a video produced and released by his campaign. 

He did not respond to questions from journalists who covered his visit.

Abortion in Brazil is illegal except in cases of rape, risk to the mother’s health, or serious deformation of a baby’s brain.

In the first round ballot two weeks ago, Bolsonaro won 46 percent of the vote to Haddad’s 29 percent. 

Polls suggest Bolsonaro has 58-59 percent voter support going into the run-off.

He has won backing through his prolific use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media, spurning media conferences and debates.

Part of his absence was explained by a month-long convalescence he was forced into after being stabbed by a lone assailant while campaigning in September, but he has continued to address his followers mostly online.

Bolsonaro also enjoys strong support from Brazil’s burgeoning evangelical movement, which is attracted to his family-first, Christian-laced rhetoric.

Brazil’s last census, in 2010, registered 65 percent of the population as Catholic and 22 percent as evangelical, though the latter is believed to have strongly grown since.

Haddad on Wednesday tried to gain traction among evangelicals, meeting pastors in Sao Paulo and defending his secular position. 

“A secular state recognizes all religions. It doesn’t prioritize just one religion — it has to welcome all of them,” he said.

Haddad also railed against “libelous” posts on social media claiming he tried to have sex education “gay kits” distributed in schools while he was education minister between 2005 and 2012.

Suspect in Bulgarian Journalist’s Murder Extradited from Germany

Germany has extradited the suspect in the killing of Bulgarian television journalist Viktoria Marinova to Bulgaria, an Interior Ministry official said Wednesday.

Bulgarian Severin Krasimirov is to be charged in person with the rape and murder of 30-year-old Marinova, whose body was found in a park in her Danube hometown of Ruse on Oct 6. Police said she was beaten and raped and died of suffocation.

Prosecutors have said evidence did not indicate Marinova’s death was related to her work and pointed to a random sexual crime although they are still investigating all possibilities.

Krasimirov was arrested in Germany last week where he admitted partial guilt to a German court.

“German authorities have handed over … the 21-year-old citizen of Ruse,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

A German prosecutor confirmed Krasimirov has been extradited via a flight from Frankfurt.

Jubilant Customers Light Up as Marijuana Sales Begin in Canada

Jubilant customers stood in long lines for hours then lit up and celebrated on sidewalks Wednesday as Canada became the world’s largest legal marijuana marketplace.

In Toronto, people smoked joints as soon as they rolled out of bed in a big “wake and bake” celebration. In Alberta, a government website that sells pot crashed when too many people tried to place orders.

And in Montreal, Graeme Campbell welcomed the day he could easily buy all the pot he wanted. 

“It’s hard to find people to sell to me because I look like a cop,” the clean-cut, 43-year-old computer programmer said outside a newly opened pot store.

He and his friend Alex Lacrosse were smoking a joint when two police officers walked by. “I passed you a joint right in front of them and they didn’t even bat an eye,” Lacrosse told his friend.

Festivities erupted throughout the nation as Canada became the largest country on the planet with legal marijuana sales. At least 111 pot shops were expected to open Wednesday across the nation of 37 million people, with many more to come, according to an Associated Press survey of the provinces. Uruguay was the first country to legalize marijuana.

Ian Power was first in line at a store in St. John’s, but didn’t plan to smoke the one gram he bought after midnight.

“I am going to frame it and hang it on my wall,” the 46-year-old Power said. “I’m going to save it forever.”

Tom Clarke, an illegal pot dealer for three decades, opened a pot store in Portugal Cove, Newfoundland, and made his first sale to his dad. He was cheered by the crowd waiting in line.

“This is awesome. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this,” Clarke said. “I am so happy to be living in Canada right now instead of south of the border.”

Promise of pardons

The start of legal sales wasn’t the only good news for pot aficionados: Canada said it intends to pardon everyone with convictions for possessing up to 30 grams of marijuana, the newly legal threshold.

“I don’t need to be a criminal anymore, and that’s a great feeling,” Canadian singer Ashley MacIsaac said outside a government-run shop in Nova Scotia. “And my new dealer is the prime minister!”

Medical marijuana has been legal since 2001 in Canada, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has spent the past two years working toward legalizing recreational pot to better reflect society’s changing opinion about marijuana and bring black-market operators into a regulated system.

Corey Stone and a friend got to one of the 12 stores that opened in Quebec at 3:45 a.m. to be among the first to buy pot. Hundreds later lined up.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing — you’re never ever going to be one of the first people able to buy legal recreational cannabis in Canada ever again,” said Stone, a 32-year restaurant and bar manager.

Shop in stores, online

The stores have a sterile look, like a modern clinic, with a security desk to check identification. The products are displayed in plastic or cardboard packages behind counters. Buyers can’t touch or smell the products before they buy. A small team of employees answer questions but don’t make recommendations.

“It’s a candy store, I like the experience,” said Vincent Desjardins, a 20-year-old-student who plans to apply for a job at the Montreal shop.

Canadians can also order marijuana products through websites run by provinces or private retailers and have it delivered to their home by mail.

At 12:07 a.m., the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission tweeted: “You like us! Our website is experiencing some heavy traffic. We are working hard to get it up and running.”

Alberta and Quebec have set the minimum age for purchase at 18, while other provinces have made it 19.

No stores will open in Ontario, which includes Toronto. The nation’s most populous province is working on its regulations and doesn’t expect stores to operate until spring.

A patchwork of regulations has spread in Canada as each province takes its own approach within the framework established by the federal government. Some provinces have government-run stores, others allow private retailers, and some have both.

Canada’s national approach allows unfettered banking for the pot industry, inter-province shipments of cannabis and billions of dollars in investment — a sharp contrast with prohibitions in the United States, where nine states have legalized recreational sales of pot and more than 30 have approved medical marijuana.

Bruce Linton, CEO of marijuana producer and retailer Canopy Growth, claims he made the first sale in Canada — less than a second after midnight in Newfoundland.

“It was extremely emotional,” he said. “Several people who work for us have been working on this for their entire adult life and several of them were in tears.”

Linton is proud that Canada is now at the forefront of the burgeoning industry.

“The last time Canada was this far ahead in anything, Alexander Graham Bell made a phone call,” said Linton, whose company recently received an investment of $4 billion from Constellation Brands, whose holdings include Corona beer and Robert Mondavi wines.

Migrants Moving Again in Guatemala; Trump Targets Democrats

More than 2,000 Honduran migrants traveling en masse through Guatemala resumed their journey toward the United States on Wednesday as U.S. President Donald Trump sought to turn the caravan into a political issue three weeks before midterm elections. 

A day after warning Central American governments they risked losing U.S. aid if they didn’t do something and saying that anyone entering the country illegally would be arrested and deported, Trump turned his sights on Democrats and urged Republican allies to campaign on border security.

“Hard to believe that with thousands of people from South of the Border, walking unimpeded toward our country in the form of large Caravans, that the Democrats won’t approve legislation that will allow laws for the protection of our country. Great Midterm issue for Republicans!” Trump said in a Wednesday morning tweet.

“Republicans must make the horrendous, weak and outdated immigration laws, and the Border, a part of the Midterms!” he continued.

In Guatemala, the migrants rose early and many left without eating breakfast, bound for Zacapa, the next city on their route. Overcast skies and a light drizzle took the edge off the sweltering heat and humidity, making the trek more bearable. 

‘It is God who decides’

Migrant Luis Navarreto, 32, said he had read about Trump’s threats regarding aid to his country but was undeterred.

“We are going to continue,” Navarreto said. “It is God who decides here. We have no other option but to move ahead.” 

The migrants are fleeing widespread poverty and gang violence in one of the world’s most murderous countries, and many blamed Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez for what they called unlivable conditions back home. 

“We are here because of Juan Orlando,” said migrant Nelson Zavala, 36, adding that the last three days had essentially been sleepless ones.

The previous day, the migrants advanced about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the Honduras-Guatemala border to arrive at the city of Chiquimula.

That’s a tiny portion of the almost 1,350 miles (2,170 kilometers) they’d have to travel to reach the closest U.S. border.

Some were able to hitch rides, and hundreds advanced farther and faster than the main group to reach the Guatemalan capital, according to the Casa del Migrante shelter there.

Late Tuesday, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights called on Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to respect the rights and ensure the safety of the migrants traveling in the caravan.

The caravan has snowballed since about 160 migrants departed Friday from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, with many people joining spontaneously while carrying just a few belongings. Estimates of their numbers ranged up to 3,000. 

Three weeks before the U.S. elections, the caravan was bound to draw Trump’s ire. But he did not follow through on a similar threat to cut aid to Honduras in April over an earlier caravan, which eventually petered out in Mexico.

‘Political groups’ blamed

On Tuesday, Honduras’ president accused unnamed “political groups” of  organizing the caravan based on lies in order to cause problems in Honduras.

“There are sectors that want to destabilize the country, but we will be decisive and we will not allow it,” Hernandez told reporters.

Earlier, the Foreign Ministry alleged that people had been lured to join the migration with “false promises” of a transit visa through Mexico and the opportunity to seek asylum in the United States.

In a joint statement Wednesday, Mexico’s Foreign Relations and Interior departments said that anyone in the caravan with travel documents and a proper visa would be allowed to enter, and that anyone who wanted to apply for refugee status could do so.

But the statement said all cases must be processed individually, suggesting that authorities have no intention of letting the migrants simply cross the border en masse without going through standard immigration procedures.

The statement warned that anyone who entered Mexico in an “irregular manner” faced detention and deportation.

Britain, EU Decide to Take Some Time in Getting Brexit Right

Leaders from the European Union and Britain shrugged off a weekend negotiating debacle and previous deadlines Wednesday, giving themselves several more weeks to clinch a friendly divorce deal ahead of their separation. 

After the EU insisted for months that the Wednesday summit was a key meeting to get a deal, its Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said “we need much time, much more time and we continue to work in the next weeks” with his British counterpart.  

British Prime Minister Theresa May also spoke about “working intensively over the next days and weeks” to achieve agreement that avoids a no-deal departure from the bloc on March 29 that could create chaos at the borders and in the economy. A deal must be sealed soon so parliaments have time to give their verdict on it. 

Underscoring the newfound sense of non-urgency, Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz of Austria, which holds the rotating EU presidency, even spoke of the “coming weeks and months” to get a deal and sought to impose a soothing calm. 

“There’s no need to dramatize matters. It’s always the case with negotiations, that in the end there are challenges,” he said. 

May was preparing to address other EU leaders one day after European Council President Donald Tusk implored her to present new ideas for resolving the tricky problem of how to keep the land border between the Republic of Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland friction-free once Britain no longer is an EU member. 

Tusk advised May that “creative” thinking from Britain was required to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, the issue that has brought divorce negotiations to a standstill. EU leaders dismissed May’s most recent proposal as unworkable. 

But when the prime minister was asked in the House of Commons earlier Wednesday whether her government’s blueprint for an amicable divorce was dead, May replied: “The answer is no.” 

The summit in Brussels had long been seen as the “moment of truth” in the two-year Brexit process. But after urgent talks on the Irish border ended Sunday without producing a breakthrough, Wednesday’s gathering looked more like a therapeutic bonding session than an occasion to celebrate. 

The timeline for a deal has slipped into November, or even December, when another EU summit is scheduled.

“Today there will be no breakthrough,” said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. She said 2 1/2 years after Britain’s Brexit referendum, the country had still not explained clearly how it wants to leave the EU.

“Today, we do not know what they want,” she said. “They do not know themselves what they really want. That is the problem.”

At present the two sides are proposing that Britain remains inside the EU single market and is still bound by its rules from the time it leaves the bloc in March until December 2020, to give time for new trade relations to be set up.

Many suspect that will not be enough time, which has led the EU to demand a “backstop” to ensure there are no customs posts or other controls along the currently invisible border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. 

And there is talk that a transition period for the U.K. to adapt to its new status as a third country could be extended by a year. 

Britain says it has not asked for an extension, but May has not yet come up with proposals for unblocking the Irish border logjam. She is hemmed in by pro-Brexit members of her Conservative Party, who oppose any more compromises with the bloc, and by her parliamentary allies in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, who insist a solution can’t include customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. 

 

Newly Published Files Confirm Plan to Move Assange to Russia

Newly released Ecuadorian government documents have laid bare an unorthodox attempt to extricate WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from his embassy hideaway in London by naming him as a political counselor to the country’s embassy in Moscow.

But the 47-year-old Australian’s new career in international affairs was nipped in the bud when British authorities vetoed his diplomatic status, effectively blocking him from taking up the post in Russia.

The files were made public late Tuesday by Ecuadorian opposition lawmaker Paola Vintimilla, who opposes her government’s decision to grant Assange nationality. They largely corroborate a recent Guardian newspaper report that Ecuador attempted the elaborate maneuver to get Assange to Moscow just before Christmas last year.

Russian diplomats called the Guardian story “fake news,” but the government files show Assange briefly was made “political counselor” to the Ecuadorian Embassy in Moscow and eligible for a monthly salary pegged at $2,000.

Ecuador also applied for a diplomatic ID card, the documents show, but the plan appears to have fallen apart with the British veto.

A letter dated Dec. 21, 2017, from Britain’s Foreign Office said U.K. officials “do not consider Mr. Julian Assange to be an acceptable member of the mission.”

An eight-page memo to Vintimilla summing up the episode noted that Assange’s position as counselor was scrapped a few days later.

WikiLeaks did not return messages. The British Foreign Office and the Russian Embassy in London declined to comment.

Assange’s relationship with Russian authorities has been the subject of intense scrutiny following the 2016 U.S. election, when Russian spies are alleged to have handed WikiLeaks leaked emails from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign in a bid to help elect her rival, Donald Trump.

Assange has denied receiving the files from the Russian government or backing the Trump campaign, despite a growing body of evidence suggesting he received material directly from Russia’s military intelligence agency and coordinated media strategy with Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr.

Last month, the AP published internal WikiLeaks files showing Assange tried to move to Russia as early as 2010.

Twitter Releases Tweets Showing Russian, Iranian Attempts to Influence US Politics

On Wednesday, Twitter released a collection of more than 10 million tweets related to thousands of accounts affiliated with Russia’s Internet Research Agency propaganda organization, as well as hundreds more troll accounts, including many based in Iran.

The data, analyzed and released in a report by The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, are made up of 3,841 accounts affiliated with the Russia-based Internet Research Agency, 770 other accounts potentially based in Iran as well as 10 million tweets and more than 2 million images, videos and other media.

Russian trolls targeting U.S. politics took on personas from both the left and the right. Their primary goal appears to have been to sow discord, rather than promote any particular side, presumably with a goal of weakening the United States, the report said.

DFRlab says the Russian trolls were often effective, drawing tens of thousands of retweets on certain posts including from celebrity commentators like conservative Ann Coulter.

​Some of the tweets posted:

“Judgement Day is here. Please vote #TrumpPence16 to save our great nation from destruction! #draintheswamp #TrumpForPresident,” said a fake Election Day tweet in 2016.

“Daily reminder: Trump still hasn’t imposed sanctions on Russia that were passed 4,193 in the House and 982 in the Senate. Shouldn’t that be grounds for impeachment?” said another tweet in March of this year.

Multiple goals

The Russian operation had multiple goals, including interfering in the U.S. presidential election, polarizing online communities, and weakening trust in American institutions, according to the DFRLab.

“The thing to understand is that the Russians were equal opportunity partisans,” Graham Brookie, one of the researchers behind the analysis, told VOA News. “There was a very specific focus on specific ideological communities and specific demographics.”

Following an initial push to prevent Hillary Clinton from being elected in 2016, the analysis identified a “second wave” of fake accounts, many of which were focused on infiltrating anti-Trump groups, especially those identified with the “Resistance” movement, exploiting sensitive issues such as race relations and gun violence. These often achieved greater impact than their conservative counterparts.

“Don’t ever tell me kneeling for the flag is disrespectful to our troops when Trump calls a sitting Senator “Pocahontas” in front of Native American war heroes,” tweeted an account posing as an African-American woman named “Luisa Haynes” under the handle @wokeluisa in November 2017. The tweet garnered more than 32,000 retweets and over 89,000 likes.

“They tried to inflame everybody, regardless of race, creed, politics or sexual orientation,” the Lab noted in its analysis. “On many occasions, they pushed both sides of divisive issues.”

Iran trolling

Iran’s trolling was primarily focused on promoting its own interests, including attacking regional rivals like Israel and Saudi Arabia.

However, Iran’s trolling was less effective than the Russian posts, with most tweets getting limited responses.

This was partially because of posting styles that were less inflammatory, according to the report.

“Few of the accounts showed distinctive personalities: They largely shared online articles,” according to the report. “As such, they were a poor fit for Twitter, where personal comment tends to resonate more strongly than website shares.” Generally, many troll posts were ineffective, and “their operations were washed away in the firehose of Twitter.”

All of the accounts linked to the massive trove of tweets released by Twitter have been suspended or deleted, and the analysis notes that overall activity from suspected Russian trolls fell this year after Twitter clampdowns in September and June 2017.

But, that does not mean political trolls do not still pose a threat.

“Identifying future foreign influence operations, and reducing their impact, will demand awareness and resilience from the activist communities targeted, not just the platforms and the open source community,” according to the report.

Hackers Accused of Ties to Russia Hit 3 E. European Companies: Cybersecurity Firm

Hackers have infected three energy and transport companies in Ukraine and Poland with sophisticated new malware and may be planning destructive cyber attacks, a software security firm said on Wednesday.

A report by researchers at Slovakia-based ESET did not attribute the hacking activity, recorded between 2015 and mid-2018, to any specific country but blamed it on a group that has been accused by Britain of having links to Russian military intelligence.

The report is the latest to raise suspicions in the West about Russia’s GRU spy agency, accused by London of conducting a “reckless campaign” of global cyber attacks and trying to kill a former Russian spy in England. Moscow denies the charges.

Investigators at ESET said the group responsible for a series of earlier attacks against the Ukrainian energy sector, which used malicious software known as BlackEnergy, had now developed and used a new malware suite called GreyEnergy.

ESET has helped investigate a series of high-profile cyber attacks on Ukraine in recent years, including those on the Ukrainian energy grid which led to power outages in late 2015.

Kiev has accused Moscow of orchestrating those attacks, while U.S. cybersecurity firm FireEye says a group known as Sandworm is thought to be responsible. Britain’s GCHQ spy agency said this month that BlackEnergy Actors and Sandworm are both names associated with the GRU.

“The important thing is that they are still active,” ESET researcher Robert Lipovsky told Reuters. “This shows that this very dangerous and persistent ‘threat actor’ is still active.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was no evidence to support the allegations against the GRU and that Russia does not use cyber attacks against other countries.

“These are just more accusations. We are tired of denying them, because no one is listening,” he said.

After infection via emails laced with malicious weblinks or documents – a tactic known as “spear phishing” – or by compromising servers exposed to the internet, GreyEnergy allowed the attackers to map out their victim’s networks and gather confidential information such as passwords and login credentials, ESET said.

Lipovsky said his team then saw the hackers seek out critical parts of the companies’ systems, including computers which ran industrial control processes.

“It is my understanding that this was the reconnaissance and espionage phase, potentially leading up to cyber sabotage,” he said.

Global hacking campaign

The ESET report did not name the three companies infected in Ukraine and Poland, and Reuters was unable to identify them.

Ukraine’s Cyber Police confirmed the attacks on two Ukrainian companies but declined to give any further details. Polish authorities did not respond to requests for comment.

Ben Read, a senior manager on FireEye’s espionage analysis team, said his own work corroborated ESET’s report and that the Sandworm group was probably responsible.

The activity “is similar to the group we track as Sandworm,” he said. “And activity that we attribute to Sandworm has been named by the U.S. Department of Justice as being the GRU.”

Western countries including Britain and the United States issued a coordinated denunciation of Russia as a “pariah state” this month for what they described as a global hacking campaign run by the GRU.

GRU hackers have targeted institutions ranging from sports anti-doping bodies to a nuclear power company and the world chemical weapons watchdog, they said, as well as releasing the devastating “NotPetya” cyber worm which caused billions of dollars of damage worldwide in 2017.

The GRU, now formally known in Russia by a shorter acronym GU, is also accused by Britain of carrying out a nerve agent attack in England on former GRU officer Sergei Skripal. Moscow’s relations with the West have hit a post-Cold War low over Russia’s role in the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

Lipovsky and fellow ESET researcher Anton Cherepanov said the BlackEnergy attackers’ decision to upgrade to the new GreyEnergy malware may have been motivated by a need to cover their tracks and deflect attention from their activities.

The power outages triggered by the BlackEnergy attacks in Ukraine in December 2015 drew international attention and are recognised as the first blackout caused by a cyber attack.

“Threat actors need to switch up their arsenal from time to time,” Lipovsky said.

 

 

Shanghai Airport Automates Check-in with Facial Recognition

It’s now possible to check in automatically at Shanghai’s Hongqiao airport using facial recognition technology, part of an ambitious rollout of facial recognition systems in China that has raised privacy concerns as Beijing pushes to become a global leader in the field. 

Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport unveiled self-service kiosks for flight and baggage check-in, security clearance and boarding powered by facial recognition technology, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

Similar efforts are under way at airports in Beijing and Nanyang city, in central China’s Henan province.

Many airports in China already use facial recognition to help speed security checks, but Shanghai’s system, which debuted Monday, is being billed as the first to be fully automated.

“It is the first time in China to achieve self-service for the whole check-in process,” said Zhang Zheng, general manager of the ground services department for Spring Airlines, the first airline to adopt the system at Hongqiao airport. Currently, only Chinese identity card holders can use the technology.

Spring Airlines said Tuesday that passengers had embraced automated check-in, with 87 percent of 5,017 people who took Spring flights on Monday using the self-service kiosks, which can cut down check-in times to less than a minute and a half.

Across greater China, facial recognition is finding its way into daily life. Mainland police have used facial recognition systems to identify people of interest in crowds and nab jaywalkers, and are working to develop an integrated national system of surveillance camera data.

Chinese media are filled with reports of ever-expanding applications: A KFC outlet in Hangzhou, near Shanghai, where it’s possible to pay using facial recognition technology; a school that uses facial recognition cameras to monitor students’ reactions in class; and hundreds of ATMs in Macau equipped with facial recognition devices to curb money laundering.

But increased convenience may come at a cost in a country with few rules on how the government can use biometric data.

“Authorities are using biometric and artificial intelligence to record and track people for social control purposes,” said Maya Wang, senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch. “We are concerned about the increasing integration and use of facial recognition technologies throughout the country because it provides more and more data points for the authorities to track people.”