China enacts mobile phone face-scan law - RTHK
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China enacts mobile phone face-scan law

2019-12-01 HKT 15:20
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  • The new law raises obvious concerns about the use  of biometric data. File photo: AFP
    The new law raises obvious concerns about the use of biometric data. File photo: AFP
A new law requiring China's telecoms operators to collect face scans when registering new phone users took effect on Sunday, as Beijing continues to tighten controls on the internet.

In September, the Industry and Information Technology Ministry issued a notice on "safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of citizens online", which laid out rules for enforcing real-name registration.

The notice said telecom operators should use "artificial intelligence and other technical means" to verify people's identities when they take a new phone number. It said "In next steps, our ministry will continue to...increase supervision and inspection...and strictly promote the management of real-name registration for phone users."

A China Unicom customer service representative the "portrait matching" requirement means customers registering for a new phone number may have to record themselves turning their head and blinking.

Though the central government has pushed for real-name registration for phone users since at least 2013 - meaning ID cards are linked to new phone numbers - the move to leverage AI comes as facial recognition technology gains traction across China where the tech is used for everything from supermarket checkouts to surveillance.

Social media users reacted with a mix of support and worry over the facial verification notice, with some voicing concerns 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," posted another. (AFP)