BEIJING—A string of fugitive arrests at a Cantopop star’s China concerts have spotlighted the expanding use of surveillance technology in public security.
Police have captured three wanted men at concerts staged in eastern China by Hong Kong’s “God of Songs,” Jacky Cheung, over the past two months, police and state media said, crediting facial-recognition technology and other high-tech tools for the arrests.
The arrests spurred a splash of publicity from state media, who are crowning Mr. Cheung—one of the Hong Kong megastars known as the “Four Heavenly Kings”—with a new title: “The Nemesis of Fugitives.”
China’s police departments have been openly touting their use of technology to nab lawbreakers—a campaign that rights activists say is aimed at winning public support for growing state surveillance.
This is the first widely reported indication that Chinese police are using facial-recognition at major musical events. Concert organizers in China have also increasingly deployed facial-recognition systems to curb scalping by verifying the identities of ticket-holders.
Surveillance companies and local security agencies have experimented with deploying the technology at events around the country in recent years. The tests date back to 2015, when one company, Shenzhen-based Firs Technology Co. Ltd. said its facial-recognition system helped police identify drug-users, fugitives and ex-convicts at a jewelry exhibition in the city of Chenzhou, in central China’s Hunan province.
Over the past year, state media have regaled readers with tales of fugitives, jaywalkers and other offenders caught unawares by the all-seeing eye of a government facial-recognition system, giving the impression that there is nowhere to hide.
Before the latest arrest on Sunday, Mr. Cheung jokingly thanked the alleged fugitives for attending his concerts, saying that their detentions show that “if you’re a crook you will get nabbed wherever you go.”
“I guess everyone needs entertainment no matter what they do,” Mr. Cheung, whose numerous hits include the ballad “She Came to Listen to My Concert,” said in the televised remarks to reporters. “It just so happens that some are crooks.”
The first arrest at a concert by Mr. Cheung took place on April 7 in the southeastern city of Nanchang, where security personnel identified a suspect in an “economic crime” with facial-recognition gear.
Police then used a surveillance system to pick out the 31-year-old, who was attending the concert with his wife and friends, from a crowd of more than 60,000 people, state media said.
Nanchang police said they installed additional cameras at the venue to bolster security for what they expected to be a popular event, though they had intended it to help prevent crime and stampedes, according to the state-run China Daily. “That we arrested a fugitive at the concert also surprised us,” a Nanchang policeman was quoted as saying.
Then on May 5 in Ganzhou city, police said they arrested a man by using “high-tech measures” during preconcert security checks. Ganzhou police didn’t specify what wrongdoing he is accused of.
On Sunday, minutes before Mr. Cheung started performing in the city of Jiaxing, police identified a male concertgoer through surveillance footage as a potato-seller accused of fraud in a 2015 purchase of roughly 110,000 yuan ($17,200) in spuds.
“Wearing a smile as he came to see his idol, he hadn’t realized that he was already being watched,” Jiaxing police said in a social-media post that featured the footage.
“Minutes after he passed through the security gate, our system issued a warning” that identified the suspect as a fugitive, a supervisor at a local police technology and data-services center said.
None of the three men could be reached for comment.
Police in the U.K. have also deployed face-scanning technology to screen crowds at carnivals, concerts and royal visits.
Such systems typically capture images of people’s faces as they filter through security checkpoints and compare them against a database of the faces of criminal suspects.
Privacy groups there say the systems don’t always function as advertised. One privacy organization, Big Brother Watch, found in a report published this month that facial-recognition systems used by two different police forces misidentified people more than 90% of the time.
Multiple police departments in China have declined to answer queries about the accuracy of their systems. Some, however, were quick to cheer the arrests at Mr. Cheung’s concerts.
A microblog run by Beijing police told the singer: “You should stage more concerts.”
In the central city of Luoyang, where Mr. Cheung is due to perform in July, the official police microblog said, “We are ready.”
—Yang Jie and Josh Chin contributed to this article
Write to Chun Han Wong at email@example.com