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Digital surveillance : How China is forcing its citizens to use face recognition
Face recognition exams are becoming even more widespread in China. Because a new rule has been in effect since December 1st: Everyone who registers a new cell phone number has to undergo a face scan.
The introduction of the storage of biometric data, according to the government, "effectively protects the legitimate rights and interests of citizens in cyberspace" and helps fight fraud.
It is the logical next step for Beijing's plans, after all, a point system - called a social credit system - is to be introduced nationwide in the coming year, which evaluates people. This should make society fairer - because the system applies to all classes - but above all also safer, according to the extensive declaration of the communist leadership.
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Developments so far show that this supposed security brings control with it: Nothing has been anonymous in the People's Republic for several years.
Guidelines for the registration of real names were introduced as early as 2015. Since then, all online accounts must be linked to ID and photo.
More than 850 million people across China - around 65 percent of the population - use their mobile devices to access the Internet. Apps like "WeChat" from tech company Tencent have become the actual Internet for many Chinese, offering everything from messaging and social networks, taxi services to the delivery of groceries, booking massages and paying taxes.
118 million users pay by facial scan
Face recognition is now widespread across China. At the new Daxing Airport in Beijing, it is used for checking in, for accessing the office building or hotel room, and for collecting points in garbage sorting systems. Last week, the Beijing subway system even started testing new facial recognition entrances at security checkpoints.
In future, the ticket for the journey will be paid for using its biometric data. 118 million users are said to pay for purchases in everyday life with a facial scan, in 2018 it was just 61 million.
The addition of full face scans raises concerns about government surveillance and the ability of the country's government wireless operators to adequately protect sensitive information about their customers
In September, four Chinese researchers specializing in artificial intelligence and biometrics wrote that potential violations or errors in this type of information collection could have "serious and permanent" consequences for those affected.
You cite an example from the University of Essex, where the face recognition technology used by the London police had an error rate of 81 percent. For example, a woman in China was no longer allowed to enter the country with a facial scan after she underwent cosmetic surgery in South Korea.
Often, however, the technology is still so flawed that simply wearing a headgear leads to artificial intelligence no longer recognizing the person.
100 surveillance cameras per 1000 inhabitants
However, critics do not see the faulty technology alone as a problem. Rather, they warn that it is not clear what the authorities will do with the data. According to American studies, the major cities in the People's Republic are already among the most monitored places in the world.
There are more than 100 surveillance cameras for every 1000 inhabitants. Anyone who has ever stood on Tiananmen Square can get an idea of the total of 600 million intelligent cameras in China.
In the Xinjiang region, ubiquitous surveillance cameras are part of a surveillance system that follows the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs at every turn. Some cities in Xinjiang have face surveillance cameras that send images every 45 meters or so to central command centers, where they can be cross-referenced.
As recently as Tuesday, the New York Times reported that Chinese authorities used blood samples to create a DNA-based database of the Uyghur minority and correlated it with facial recognition data in order to be able to use artificial intelligence to classify the ethnicity of all monitored people.
Law professor sues against compulsory facial recognition
And not everyone in China will accept facial recognition technology and the storage of their biometric data. Recently, Guo Bing, a law professor at Zhejiang Sci-Tech University, sued a Hangzhou safari park after all season ticket holders were forced to scan their faces.
In the Hong Kong SAR, protesters destroyed several "smart" lampposts in August, fearful that they were used by the Chinese government for facial recognition and other forms of surveillance.
In October, China set up a national working group of 28 tech companies to set standards for facial recognition. As is so often the case in China, this step comes years after the technology has been tested and used in practice.
The fact that companies such as Sensetime, iFlytek, whose equipment the Chinese government uses in Xinjiang, for example, to monitor the Uyghurs, participate in this body does not, at least from a Western perspective, arouse great confidence that consumers will be the focus.
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