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China will now force citizens to give smartphone facial scan data to government

The facial scan data will be tied to the person's real name as part of a registration database.

Published onDecember 2, 2019

OnePlus 7 Pro taking a selfie

If you’re a Chinese citizen looking to register a new phone with a telecom operator, there’s a new requirement for you. In order to register your new handset, you’ll need to submit facial scan data from your smartphone to the telecom operator, which will then submit that data to the government (via Channel News Asia).

The government could require you to turn your head from side-to-side as well as blink during the scan. The resulting data will be tied to your real name within government records.

This new facial scan mandate is part of China’s initiative to tie its citizens’ real names to their online presence. Citizens already need to provide proof of their identity to sign up for new phone service, and even registering for the state-run social media network Weibo requires a real name link. However, those mandates currently require a connection to an ID card, not smartphone facial scans.

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China is referring to this new mandate as “portrait matching” and said in a September notice that its intention is “safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of citizens online.” That same notice also said that the government “will continue to … increase supervision and inspection … and strictly promote the management of real-name registration for phone users.”

The facial scan data could be used for the surveillance of Chinese citizens. Artificial intelligence and facial recognition software are already used for surveillance in the country.

This controversial announcement comes during a time when the worldwide perception of China is suspicious at best. The ongoing protests in Hong Kong, repeated accusations of security violations against HUAWEI, and even the banishment of Winnie the Pooh have hurt the country’s standing, both politically and socially.

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