China’s highest court has issued a ruling that could significantly limit the scope of facial recognition programs in the country. To that end, the Supreme People’s Court has stated that businesses cannot use facial recognition to identify their customers without consent, while buildings must offer an alternative form of access control for those who would prefer not to use their faces for biometric identity verification.
The ruling is a response to the growing backlash to facial recognition in China. Several businesses (and real estate agencies in particular) have come under fire for using facial recognition to identify everyone who steps onto their premises. The latest decision will put a stop to that practice, and goes one step further to state that businesses cannot deny service to someone who does not want to submit to a facial scan. However, there is an exception for services that cannot function without access to the user’s facial information, and Chinese civilians may still be scanned during emergencies in which there are concerns about public safety.
Businesses that violate the law will be guilty of personal rights infringement. The Supreme People’s Court decision will go into effect on August 1, and covers venues ranging from hotels and shopping malls to transport stations, stadiums, and banks.
The news comes shortly after China passed a new Data Security Law that creates stronger penalties for businesses that fail to protect the personal information of their customers. That, coupled with the new ruling, suggests that China is indeed taking privacy and data protection much more seriously after suffering several high-profile breaches in the past few years.
July 30, 2021 – by Eric Weiss