In one instance, 37-year-old Xu Peilin stood up against her neighborhood committee for implementing biometric monitoring policies in 2021. The Beijing resident returned home to her apartment building one day and found apartment managers requiring residents to scan their faces before entering.
“It was insane,” said Xu, comparing the experience to the British science fiction show “Black Mirror.”
She pressured her neighborhood committee to drop the surveillance measure through telephone calls and texts messages. While Xu can still enter her apartment using her key card, she believes that it will only be a matter of time until facial scanners become mandatory once more.
“All I can do for now is to continue to resist on a small scale,” she said. (Related: Chinese government using facial recognition tech that can identify people even when they’re wearing coronavirus masks.)
Xu was not the first to oppose mandatory facial recognition. Back in 2019, Zhejiang Sci-Tech University associate law professor Guo Bing sued Hangzhou Safari Park for breach of contract after the zoo forced him to submit to facial recognition as a requirement for annual membership. The zoo had been using a fingerprint system before it shifted to facial scanning.
Guo obtained an annual membership for the zoo in April 2019, entering the establishment via fingerprint scans. However, Hangzhou Safari Park notified him in October 2019 that the zoo will use a facial recognition system for annual members. The professor then sued the zoo, alleging that “it was violating protection laws by collecting visitors’ facial characteristics.”
The Hangzhou Fuyang People’s Court subsequently ruled in favor of the plaintiff, ordering the zoo to pay Guo 1,038 yuan ($153.73) and delete data from his facial scans.
“The agreement between the two parties was to use fingerprint recognition to enter the park. [Hangzhou] Safari Park’s collection of photos of Guo Bing and his wife exceeded the legally necessary requirements, so it was not legitimate,” the court said in an announcement.
Later, several Chinese cities began banning neighborhood committees from mandating residents to undergo biometric monitoring as a condition of entry. Concurrently, toilet paper dispensers with facial recognition technology were removed from public bathrooms in the city of Dongguan after public outrage.
Stringent surveillance but lax data safeguarding
The CCP recently suppressed news about a data leak of a government computer system utilized by law enforcement in the city of Shanghai. Security researchers said the leaked database had been left online and unsecured for months. The leak came to light after a user named “ChinaDan” posted an offer to sell the database for 10 Bitcoin tokens in an online forum.
Information in the leaked database – samples of which were verified by the New York Times – contained basic details such as names, addresses and ID numbers. Details obtained from external sources, such as instructions for couriers on where to drop off packages, raised questions about how much information private companies share with government authorities.
The trove of leaked information also contained personal details, such as police reports with names of people accused of rape and domestic violence and private information about political dissidents.
The data breach served as a serious hit on the central government in Beijing, which has justified its surveillance as necessary for public health and safety. Its failure to safeguard the sensitive personal information risked exposing citizens to problems like fraud and extortion and threatened to undermine people’s compliance with surveillance efforts.
“It’s just a bit unusual to see that even the police are vulnerable too,” said Shanghai resident Jewel Liao, one of the many individuals whose personal information was compromised during the breach. “You never know who is going to sell or leak your information.”
Artist Dragon Zheng, whose practice explores the interaction of technology and governance, said: “The rise of the public’s awareness of data privacy is an inevitable trend. Technology is like Pandora’s box; once it’s open, how it is used depends on whose hands it falls into.”
Visit CommunistChina.news for more stories about Beijing’s surveillance operations targeting Chinese citizens.
Watch this video discussing the CCP’s surveillance system in the city of Shanghai.
This video is from the Channel News channel on Brighteon.com.
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