Penang State Government, Penang, Malaysia
Digitization & New Technologies, and Management for Productivity, Quality, and Agility
The City Council of Penang Island (MBPP) employs facial recognition technology to reduce crimes through artificial intelligence that cross-references visual input to the police’s database of known offenders. This technology is an enhancement to the already extensive network of CCTV (closed-circuit television) cameras used in the state of Penang.
Background and Problem
Penang, with an urbanization level of 90.8% is among the most urbanized states in Malaysia (Department of Statistics Malaysia, 2015; Statista, 2019; The World Bank, 2015 in Woo K. & Khoo, S, 2020). As with most highly urbanized places, challenges such as traffic, waste management, and crime are rife, and there is a need for innovative solutions to ensure sustainable growth.
Solution and Impact
CCTVs were first installed and used in Penang Island in 2008 to improve city management. By 2013, the MBPP created a CCTV control room and installed an additional 767 CCTVs in crime hotspots and road junctions that required close monitoring of traffic (Channel News Asia, 2019).
The MBPP upgraded their CCTV control center in 2017 and set up an Intelligence Operation Center (IOC) in collaboration with IBM. Through the IOC, MBPP had access to real-time data on illegal parking, illegal dumping, traffic congestion, street light damage, and flash floods and other emergencies.
Facial recognition technology was introduced in 2019 to enhance the MBPP’s capacity to address street-level crime. It works by cross-referencing visual input from the camera feeds with the system’s database of known criminals. This allows law enforcement to monitor the movements of potential perpetrators, with a system alert being triggered by 80-90% accuracy match (Channel News Asia, 2019).
The initiative has received positive feedback from law enforcement, as it has allowed them to more efficiently deploy their manpower. Concerns about potential violations of privacy and due process have been addressed by the MBPP, citing that apprehensions are still bound by the law and the standard operating procedures of the police. Human rights and constitutional lawyers have also provided guidance on how to ensure that the system does not violate citizen’s rights through the same mechanism that ensures their safety.
Currently, a total of 935 CCTVs have been installed at Penang Island, with 913 dedicated to crime hotspots and high traffic areas. These are monitored at 5 CCTV control centers housed in the MBPP office and in various police stations around the island.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the CCTV cameras were also equipped with public address speakers in order to relay messages to the public and strengthen their compliance with social distancing and other prescribed health protocols. MBPP is also looking at employing facial registration technology to help with contact tracing.
In recognition of its innovation, MBPP was nominated as a finalist in the 2020 International Data Corporation Asia Pacific Smart City Awards under the Public Safety (Smart Policing) category (CIO, 2020).
CCTV Poles at Site (Source: MBPP Engineering Department)
CCTV Control Center (Source: MBPP Engineering Department)
Woo K. & Khoo. (2020, June). Ecology and new urban program: A case study of Penang state own brand of affordable housing program. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2226585619301359#:~:text=Among%20the%2013%20states%20of,Malaysian%20state%20by%20land%20mass
Channel News Asia. (2019, Jan 2). Penang to equip CCTV cameras with facial recognition inbid to reduce crime. Retrieved from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/penang-facial-recognition-identify-criminals-cctv-11080092
The Star. (2019, January 3). Use of biometric facial recognition must be regulated. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2019/01/03/use-of-biometric-facial-recognition-must-be-regulated/.
CIO. (2020, March 31). Southeast Asia’s ‘smart cities’ project finalists. Retrieved from https://www.cio.com/article/3535221/southeast-asia-s-smart-cities-project-finalists.html
Inn, T. (2020, March 27). Smart City Technologies Take on COVID-19. Retrieved from https://penanginstitute.org/publications/issues/smart-city-technologies-take-on-covid-19/
MBPP Engineering Department. (2021). Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) System MBPP. [PowerPoint slides].