Chinese citizens will now have to start using facial identification in order to sign up for internet services or get a new mobile number. Recent reports indicate that China has around 854 million internet users.
The government says it wants to “protect the legitimate rights and interest of citizens in cyberspace”.
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.
China has for years been trying to enforce rules to ensure that everyone using the internet does so under their “real-name” identities.
In 2017, for example, new rules required internet platforms to verify a user’s true identity before letting them post online content.
The new regulation for telecom operators was framed by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology as a way to “strengthen” this system and ensure that the government can identify all mobile phone users. Most Chinese internet users access the web via their phones.
Jeffrey Ding, a researcher on Chinese artificial intelligence at Oxford University, said that one of China’s motivations for getting rid of anonymous phone numbers and internet accounts was to boost cyber-security and reduce internet fraud.
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.”
Last month Chinese state media announced the development of a new “super camera,” and artificial intelligence-driven 500-megapixel camera capable of identifying individual faces in crowds of tens of thousands of people in “perfect detail.” State media said the device, which is five times more powerful than the human eye, could have “military, national defence and public security applications.”
China last year also said it developed a new surveillance camera which could identify users based on their walking style and silhouette. The “gait recognition” technology has reportedly already been rolled out in several Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai.
According to Quartz, China appears to be the first country to require facial ID to sign up for mobile and internet services.