The government of China has formally implemented a new rule that makes a facial recognition scan a required part of the mobile registration process. Anyone hoping to sign up for mobile phone services will now need to undergo a scan, expanding on the previous system that only asked customers to provide an identity card.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) introduced the legislation in September, arguing that it will help reduce fraud and make it more difficult to register for mobile services with a stolen identity. Chinese citizens need a mobile number to access many online services, so the new legislation will drastically expand the number of faces in the national database.
However, there are some concerns about data security and surveillance. Tsinghua University law professor Lao Dongyan noted that the country does not have any comprehensive legislation governing the use (and misuse) of facial recognition data, and an annual pass holder recently sued a wildlife park after they switched from fingerprint recognition to facial recognition for park entry. The People’s Daily has also called for greater oversight after an incident in which people’s personal information was made available at a rate of 5,000 faces for a mere 10 yuan ($1.42).
“Most of the time, we don’t know our data is being collected and the storage and use of data doesn’t follow legal requirements,” said Lao.
Of course, those concerns have not slowed China’s enthusiasm for facial recognition over the past few years. The country recently began trialing emotion recognition tech in the Xinjiang region, where the government has set up a controversial surveillance network to monitor the area’s minority Uyghur Muslim population.
The MIIT did not disclose whose technology would be used to carry out the scans, or how the new law would affect citizens with existing mobile accounts.
December 3, 2019 – by Eric Weiss