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China Introduces Mandatory Face Scans For Phone Users

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China introduces mandatory face scans for phone users.


Chinese authorities now require telecom operators to collect facial scans when registering new phone users at offline outlets. This is according to the country’s information technology authority, as Beijing continues to tighten cyberspace controls.


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In September, China’s industry and information technology ministry issued a notice. It said to it is on “safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of citizens online”. This laid out rules for enforcing real-name registration.


The notice also said telecom operators should use “artificial intelligence and other technical means” to verify people’s identities. This process is applicable when they take a new phone number.


A China Unicom customer service representative told AFP what the December 1 “portrait matching” entails. The requirement means that customers registering for a new phone number may have to record themselves turning their heads and blinking when they make purchases.


“In next steps, our ministry will continue to …increase supervision and inspection …and strictly promote the management of real-name registration for phone users,” said the September notice.

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Chinese Citizens Voice Concerns

The Chinese government push for real-name registration for phone users started since at least 2013. That meant that ID cards are also linked to new phone numbers. This move to leverage AI comes as facial recognition technology gains traction across China.


Online, Chinese social media users reacted with a mix of support and worry over the December 1 facial verification notice.  Some have concerns that their biometric data could be leaked or sold.


“This is a bit too much,” wrote one user on Twitter-like Weibo, commenting under an article about the new rules.


“Control, and then more control,” another also posted.


The oversight of social media has ramped up in recent years. It is part of the Chinese government’s push to “promote the healthy, orderly development of the Internet, protect state security and public interest”.


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