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China due to introduce face scans for mobile users

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China due to introduce face scans for mobile users

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For years, China has been trying to enforce rules to ensure that everyone who uses the Internet does so with their "real name" identities.

Now people in China need to scan their faces when registering new mobile services as authorities seek to verify the identities of the country's hundreds of millions of internet users.

The regulation, announced in September, should take effect on Sunday.

The government says it wants to "protect the legitimate rights and interests of citizens in cyberspace."

China already uses face recognition technology to survey its population.

It is a world leader in such technologies, but its widespread use across the country in recent years has sparked debate.

What are the new rules?

When signing up for new mobile or mobile data contracts, people already have to show their national ID card (as required in many countries) and take their photos.

But now, they will also have their faces scanned to verify that they are a genuine match with the ID provided.

For years, China tries to impose rules to ensure that all Internet users do so with their "real name" identities.

In 2017, for example, new rules required Internet platforms to verify a user's true identity before allowing online content to be published.

The new regulation for telecom operators It was structured by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology as a way to "strengthen" this system and ensure that the government can identify all mobile phone users. Most Chinese Internet users access the web through their phones.

Jeffrey Ding, Oxford University's Chinese artificial intelligence researcher, said one of China's motivations for getting rid of phone numbers and anonymous Internet accounts was to increase cybersecurity and reduce Internet fraud.

But another likely motivation, he said, was to better track the population: "This is linked to a very centralized effort to try to keep control of everyone, or that's at least ambition."

Are people worried?

When regulations were announced in September, the Chinese media did not do much of that.

But online, hundreds of social media users have expressed concerns about the growing amount of data held on them.

"People are being increasingly closely monitored," said a user of microblogging site Sina Weibo. "What are they (the government) afraid of?"

China due to introduce face scans for mobile users

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In your face: the all-seeing surveillance system in China

Many others complained that China had seen too many data breaches. "Before, thieves knew your name, in the future they will know what you look like," said one user, receiving over 1,000 likes. Another criticized the policy, saying, "This is being implemented without public consent."

Another said he often got fraudulent calls from people who knew his name and address and asked, "Can they tell you how I am now?"

Others, however, were less cynical, saying that the change was simply in line with "technological progress."

China already censors and police the web extensively, removing and blocking content that it does not want its citizens to see and talk to.

How widespread is facial recognition in China?

China is often described as a surveillance state – by 2017 there were 170 million CCTV cameras nationwide, with the goal of installing about 400 million new ones by 2020.

The country is also setting up a "social credit" system to track the conduct and public interactions of all its citizens in a single database.

The goal is that by 2020 everyone in China will be subscribed to a vast national database that compiles tax and government information to give a "rating" to every citizen.

Facial recognition plays a key role in the surveillance system and has been praised as a way to capture fugitives. Last year, the media noted that police were able to pick a fugitive from a crowd of 60,000 at a concert using technology.

In western Xinjiang, where up to one million Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities have been detained for what authorities call "re-education", Surveillance cameras use face recognition to specifically track Uighurs based on their appearance., reported the New York Times earlier this year.

But facial recognition is increasingly becoming part of everyday life and business transactions in China. It is increasingly used, for example, to pay in stores and supermarkets.

However, there were some repercussions. Earlier this year, a university professor sued a wildlife park for making face recognition mandatory for visitors – sparking a broader debate about the massive collection of state data about its citizens.

China due to introduce face scans for mobile users

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Media CaptionThe BBC visits camps where China's Muslims have their "transformed thoughts"

In September, the Chinese government said it planned to "restrict and regulate" the use of facial recognition technology in schools after reports that a university was testing its use to monitor student attendance and behavior.

Ding said it was clear that there is a growing backlash against China's widespread adoption of facial recognition technology.

These criticisms used to focus on fears of data theft, hacking, and commercial enterprise abuse, he said. Increasingly, however, citizens seem willing to criticize how the Chinese government can exploit this data to track population.

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