What you need to know
- The legislation was passed by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
- It requires cellphone companies to take facial scans of users registering for a new number or SIM card.
- The move is aimed at strengthening the Chinese government's attempts to link users' virtual identities to their real ones.
The Chinese government is already well known for its prolific censorship of speech, especially in online forums, as well as its general control over what its citizens consume thanks to the likes of The Great Firewall. This week, the Communist Party took yet another step in strengthening its ability to track and scrutinize its citizens' activities by mandating new SIM card buyers to register their faces with the government (via Channel News Asia).
The new rules, which China says are aimed at "safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of citizens online", will mandate cellphone companies with the responsibility of having customers scan their faces before buying a new SIM card or registering a new cellphone number at offline stores.
The country's authorities already require users to link their national IDs to their cellphone numbers, but these latest regulations would incorporate the use of biometric authentication and artificial intelligence into its overarching surveillance regime. They're not also entirely unexpected, given the exceeding pace with which facial recognition technologies are being adopted in the country, from shopping store checkouts to even public transportation. A recent Financial Times report, for example, highlights Chinese companies' role in pioneering the standards for facial recognition, and the power this gives the country, especially in the developing world.