A controversial law which forces new mobile subscribers in China to first provide scans of their face has now been implemented.
To sign up for a new plan, Chinese consumers will still need their national ID card but will now also be forced to supply facial scans. First announced in September, Beijing says it’s taking the step to “protect the legitimate rights and interest of citizens in cyberspace.”
The measure is designed to reduce fraud. However, privacy campaigners believe it's also part of Beijing's desire to ensure no-one is truly anonymous online.
Being able to link digital identities to real-world individuals helps to silence dissenters. At a time when protestors in Hong Kong are facing brutality for expressing their view that Beijing has infringed on the country’s autonomy, the new measures have naturally raised further concerns.
Another fear is how the collected facial scans are being used after verification. Strict data laws in many Western countries require explicit consent as to how data is stored and used, but such laws are practically nonexistent in China.
Facial scans may be used to further train national facial recognition algorithms that have already been used for oppressive purposes.
China uses a robust facial recognition system in Xinjiang, a Muslim-dominated region. Geofencing is used in tandem with facial recognition to alert the authorities if targets venture beyond a 300-metre safe zone.
Beijing maintains the system in Xinjiang is vital to tackle numerous incidents of violence and unrest, which it links to Islamic extremists. However, Human Rights Watch has condemned the policies as a "violation of international human rights norms."
China boasts the world's largest surveillance network with around 170 million security cameras and plans to install a further 400 million over the next three years.
In a bid to quickly understand this massive resource and provide actionable insights, Beijing is turning to AI.
The world's most valuable AI startup, SenseTime, is a Chinese firm which provides technology for the government's surveillance network.
SenseTime's Viper system aims to process and analyse over 100,000 simultaneous real-time streams from traffic cameras, ATMs, and more, to automatically tag and keep track of individuals.
It's unclear whether SenseTime will have direct access to facial scans collected by the Chinese government, but it seems likely scans will be used by the authorities to find those it deems a threat.
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