China yesterday began requiring telecom operators to collect face scans when registering new telephone users at offline outlets, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said, as Beijing continues to tighten cyberspace controls.
The ministry in September issued a notice on “safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of citizens online,” which laid out rules for enforcing real-name registration.
The notice said telecom operators should use “artificial intelligence [AI] and other technical means” to verify people’s identities when they take a new phone number.
A China Unicom Ltd (中國聯通) customer service representative said yesterday’s “portrait matching” requirement means customers registering for a new phone number might have to record themselves turning their head and blinking.
“In next steps, our ministry will continue to ... increase supervision and inspection ... and strictly promote the management of real-name registration for phone users,” the ministry said in the September notice.
Though the Chinese government has pushed for real-name registration for phone users since at least 2013 — meaning identification cards are linked to new phone numbers — the move to leverage AI comes as facial recognition technology gains traction across China, where the tech is used for everything from supermarket checkouts to surveillance.
Online, Chinese social media users reacted with a mix of support and worry over yesterday’s notice, with some voicing concerns their biometric data could be leaked or sold.
“This is a bit too much,” wrote one user on Sina Weibo (微博), commenting under an article about the new rules.
“Control, and then more control,” another posted.
While researchers have warned of the privacy risks associated with gathering facial recognition data, consumers have widely embraced the technology — although China saw one of its first lawsuits on facial recognition last month.
Early last month, Guo Bing (郭兵), a professor at Zhejiang University of Sci-Tech in Hangzhou, filed a claim against Hangzhou Safari Park in Zheijiang Province for requiring face scans for entry.
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