Quite a few countries around the world – including, somewhat perplexingly, a prominent European Union member France – are making determined, yet still seemingly baby steps toward introducing digital control and surveillance of their citizens by way of deploying facial recognition technology.
However, China is not among those shy “facial recognition customers” – in fact, the country has not only invested heavily in developing this type of tech but has also never made any secret of its desire to unabashedly and broadly deploy it in a wide array of public spaces.
With things concerning China’s policy in this regard so stark and out in the open for such a long time, it seems like the rest of the world is by now mostly desensitized to what such developments mean to real people and their everyday lives. It now seems to be mostly about taking stock of what Beijing has done next.
Here’s one thing: as of December 1, residents in China will be required to pass a facial recognition test to apply for an internet connection via smartphone or computer.
In the past – like in many other countries, including in Europe – a Chinese resident could not become a subscriber to a landline or postpaid mobile phone number, or cable/internet service without presenting their government-issued ID to the company providing the service. But introducing facial recognition into the mix takes this policy up a notch in terms of surveillance.
According to the government, it will be up to telecommunications companies in China to deploy facial recognition “tests” to ensure their customers’ true identity.
It isn’t clear from the report what the Chinese government’s explanation for the new rule is – but its critics, including US-based commentator Tang Jingyuan, are quoted as saying that its purpose is really “to control people’s speech.”
Meanwhile, China continues its “long march” towards digital control: the report, citing US market company IDC, said that the country spent over $10 billion on video surveillance last year – and that the billions of surveillance cameras are now everywhere: from government buildings, streets, train stations, schools, all the way to public restrooms – where gaining access to toilet paper now allegedly requires passing facial recognition tests.