Under the previous rules, Chinese people were required to show an identification card before getting internet installed in their homes. But starting last December, the country’s more than 850 million internet users were no longer able to access the internet or buy a smartphone without scanning their faces first.
In addition, phone users are not allowed to pass their phone numbers to other users, and they are being encouraged to check if any phone numbers have been registered to their name without their permission.
China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology claims that the facial recognition requirement for internet access will improve their internet security and fight what they deem “terrorism.” Of course, they believe that peaceful protesters in Hong Kong are terrorists, so this will probably be used as another way to control their people and suppress dissent.
Chinese people are already subjected to major censorship, with sites like Facebook and Twitter blocked there and personal messaging communications censored as well. They regularly remove and block internet content that they do not want their citizens to read or discuss.
It’s just the latest in a long string of infringements on personal freedoms in China. Surveillance there is extensive, with the country counting 170 million CCTV cameras in 2017 with an aim of having 400 million more by 2020. They’ve been working on developing the most extensive facial recognition database in the world, capable of identifying any of their 1.2 billion-plus citizens within mere seconds.
These surveillance cameras are also being used to track Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang based on their appearance. These people are targeted by the Chinese government and often placed in concentration camps, where they are subjected to torture, organ harvesting and other horrors.
Universities in the country also use this type of technology to track students, and it can also be seen at border checkpoints and concerts. Some police are wearing special glasses equipped with facial recognition software to search for suspects in crowded areas.
Naturally, many Chinese people are concerned about potential data leaks. Last year, a database with hundreds of millions of private chat logs from six major Chinese messaging apps such as WeChat were leaked online, where anyone could read people’s chats.
The facial scanning regulation for buying phones is just the latest component of the social credit system used in China. This system records citizens' actions and gives them a score depending on how well they adhere to the communist country’s laws and customs. Those with a low social credit score might be banned from using public transport, lose internet access, or see their children banned from attending better schools.
If it drops even lower, people can lose their jobs or even their pets. Millions of people in the country have already been blocked from purchasing train and plane tickets because of this score, and some have their names and photos and a list of their violations displayed on LED billboards in busy areas of big cities to shame them.
Those with higher social credit scores, meanwhile, can enjoy lower utility costs, better interest rates and other perks.
Unfortunately, most of the world continues to sit by while China continues to take away its people's personal freedoms.
Sources for this article include: