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China due to introduce face scans for mobile users

BBC Technology 01 Dec 2019 12:03
People on mobile phones outside a Nike store in ShanghaiImage copyright AFP

People in China are now required to have their faces scanned when registering new mobile phone services, as the authorities seek to verify the identities of the country's hundreds of millions of internet users.

The regulation, announced in September, was due to come into effect on Sunday.

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

China already uses facial recognition technology to survey its population.

It is a world leader in such technologies, but their intensifying 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 are already required to show their national identification card (as required in many countries) and have their photos taken.

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

In 2017, for example, new rules required internet platforms to verify a user's true identity before letting them post online content.

But another likely motivation, he said, was to better track the population: "It's connected to a very centralised push to try to keep tabs on everyone, or that's at least the ambition."

When the regulations were announced in September, the Chinese media did not make a big deal of it.

"People are being more and more strictly monitored," one user of the Sina Weibo microblogging website said. "What are they [the government] afraid of?"

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ChinaChinese governmentNikeMinistry of Industrydata theft