China passed a rule on Sunday that requires people to submit facial scans when registering new mobile phone numbers. The regulation is designed to protect “citizens’ legitimate rights and interests in cyberspace.” However, many are concerned about the privacy and security implications of such a decision.
China already runs a tight ship when it comes to managing the internet. In 2017, President Xi Jinping implemented a set of cybersecurity laws, one of which requires citizens to use their real names when creating online accounts. The country also established a mandatory social credit system, which will allow the government to rank its people based on a variety of factors.
The new phone regulation only applies to numbers registered after December 1. Although China has been using facial recognition technology for some time, the country only recently set up a working group of nearly 30 technology companies to create standards around how to appropriately administer its use across various fields.
Chinese Government Tightening Control Over the Internet
Today, over 850 million people in China access the internet with their mobile phones. Platforms like WeChat have evolved into one-stop shops for consumers to get everything they need from the web, making it easier for the government to track individual user activity.
Earlier in November, Chinese officials cracked down on online gaming. The country implemented six initiatives aimed at reducing youth video game addiction. One of the most notable measures is that minors can only log up to an hour and a half per day, a significant limitation in one of the biggest video game markets in the world.
In the past, Beijing has shut down Google and Facebook. 2017 also brought about new rules related to video streaming services, virtual private network use, and online forum participation. Most efforts fall under under an attempt to eliminate anonymity from the internet user experience.
Facial Recognition Already Big in China
Camera surveillance is everywhere in China. The UK-based organization, Comparitech, recently concluded that Chinese cities are the most closely watched in the world. In Shanghai and Shenzhen, there are over 100 CCTV cameras per 1,000 citizens.
Facial recognition technology, specifically, is also being used for many applications. Beijing’s subway system recently started testing facial recognition at certain security checkpoints. One KFC-branded restaurant even allows visitors to purchase food with facial scans.
As facial scanning becomes more prominent around the globe and an expected practice of phone users (as in unlocking one’s smartphone), we will see it play a major role in our day to day living.