“Big Brother Meets Big Data” as China Enforces Facial and Gesture Recognition Rules For Mobile Users

3 min read

December 2, 2019

China has begun to enforce the face recognition policy of mobile phone access to the Internet as of December 1.

When registering for a new mobile and mobile data contract, one is required to show a national identification card (as required in many countries) and have one’s photo taken. People will have their faces scanned in order to verify that their photos match the ID presented.  

Artificial facial recognition Getty

Commentary has pointed out that this policy reveals that Beijing continues to strengthen its control over cyberspace.

China ’ s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued the above notice in September this year. It was to successfully prevent the resale of phone cards. It requires telecommunications companies to implement three new measures starting from December 1, “to ensure that calling card applicants perform face recognition and match to get online.

It is forbidden to resell phone cards and require telecommunications operators to provide users with other access numbers under their names. The rule is to prevent impersonation of cards. The notice from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology also wrote: “In the next step, our ministry will adhere to … intensify supervision and inspection … to strictly promote the registration of real names of telephone users.”

The customer service staff of China Unicom (China Unicom) told Agence France-Press that the portrait comparison rules implemented from December 1st meant that when applying for a new access number, customers must store their facial features, including photos. They need to look down and blink as part of the additional facial biometric scan.

It is reported that when the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued the notice in September this year, the Chinese media did not report on it widely which caused a strong backlash among the people. 

Some people expressed concern that their biometric data may be leaked or resold. Others consider that it is the authorities’ tightening control.  “People are being more and more strictly monitored,” one user of the Sina Weibo microblogging website said. “What are they [the government] afraid of?” Many users questioned, “People complained that there has been many data breaches, “criminals are familiar with personal details, they will track your actions, “complained a user. Another netizen criticized the policy and said,” This is implemented without public consent. “

In recent years, the application of face recognition technology has become more and more common in China, from supermarket checkout to security surveillance. 

This is one of the reasons China is described as a country with the most surveillance. The BBC reports that China is the country with the fastest development and application of face recognition technology in the world. It has attracted international attention and debates.

The report quoted Oxford University’s Chinese artificial intelligence researcher Jeffrey Ding as commenting that it is clear that the rebound in China’s widespread adoption of facial recognition technology has gradually increased. 

Ding said that in the past, criticism of such technologies has often focused on companies’ concerns about data theft, hacking, and abuse. Today, more and more citizens are criticizing how the government uses this data to track the population.

The New York Times recently reported that in Xinjiang, China, authorities have set up surveillance cameras in the so-called “reeducation camps” that have detained up to 1 million Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities. They also use facial recognition technology to track Uighurs.

Jeffrey Ding, a researcher on Chinese artificial intelligence at Oxford University, said that one of China’s motivations for getting rid of anonymous phone numbers and internet accounts was to boost cyber-security and reduce internet fraud.

But online, hundreds of social media users voiced concerns about the increasing amount of data being held on them.

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