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Tokyo Olympics security to use facial recognition AI; organizers vow to delete data

A security camera in Moriguchi, Osaka Prefecture, is seen in this Jan. 25, 2018 file photo. (Mainichi/Yusuke Kato)

TOKYO -- The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games appear set to lay on the deployment of state-of-the-art artificial intelligence (AI)-managed security features.

Despite confidence in the systems from information technology firms, the organizing committee has attempted to clearly stress how far it can go with people's data, and is using measures to secure personal information from being exposed to theft from a cyberattack.

One major security feature, and a first for any games, will be NEC Corp.'s facial recognition system, which the firm claims can "correctly verify the faces of 230 million people in one second."

The system will be used to identify the over 300,000 athletes, staff and volunteers expected to pass in and out of competition facilities, the Olympic and Paralympic village, and other locations. By presenting an identification card with a built-in chip, their preregistered facial data and the image of the person attempting to gain entrance can be automatically cross-referenced and verified.

But even with digital technology coming with high security management expectations, recent years have seen a rise in cyber- and physical thefts of personal information.

NEC says it encrypts the facial recognition data accumulated by its system, which identifies characteristics of people's faces based on the position of the eyes and nose. The company said, "Even if an individual outside our firm was to obtain the data, they wouldn't be able to restore the images of people's faces."

Also, the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games has stated that information and images of people's faces, as well as their names and other data connected to administration of the games, will be completely deleted after the closing ceremonies.

A senior official on the committee has indicated confidence in their data management plans, saying, "We manage the data in an environment that is not connected to the network, meaning that it's safe as long as it's not physically infiltrated."

To ensure security, the number of employees with access to the data is reportedly limited, and is kept behind a sturdy lock system with strict controls over who can enter and leave the facility where it is located.

The "crowd behavior detection and analysis" system provided by NEC and set to see implementation during the games is reportedly expected to fall under similarly strict data protection controls. According to NEC, the system's cameras are technologically capable of picking out individuals from images of a moving crowd, but the organizing committee has balked at the idea of identifying individuals from crowds, clearly stating, "We won't do it. It's not something a private enterprise (such as us) should do."

Another senior official on the committee noted, "We're developing security as a national policy. I think it will be a success if we can make this a sales pitch for our country's latest security technology. That, too, is a sub-theme" of hosting the games.

(Japanese original by Takayuki Kanamori, City News Department)

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