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China wants a digital data bank of all faces and fingerprints

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China is constantly expanding its use of mass surveillance technology, and developing new, ever more invasive techniques, which are leaving a majority of people in that country feeling increasingly uneasy.

Reports are quoting polls that reveal about 90 percent of Chinese citizens are uncomfortable with the level of mass surveillance and aggressive harvesting of their biometric data. And the authorities’ response to that is not to let up with this policy, but to promise that the data will be safe.

That is how an initiative launched by top adviser and member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Tan Jianfeng is being interpreted: he wants a national bank of biometric data to be established, as a way to ensure data safety.

Fingerprints, DNA and facial recognition data should be included in this bank, Tan said, calling the issue of data security one of national security, and pushing for new laws to be adopted soon.

Whether this can increase the level of comfort Chinese citizens feel about living in a society known for its ever-broader and invasive use of biometric data remains to be seen.

The technology behind China’s mass surveillance is in the meanwhile moving into new realms, beyond just fingerprinting and facial recognition that requires finding a match. Emotion recognition has been on the rise for years, and by 2023, this portion of the surveillance industry is projected to be worth $36 billion.

The goal of emotion recognition is to predict a person’s feelings or state of mind by collecting data showing facial expressions. This technology looks into biometric points like facial muscle and body movements, and tone of voice.

Those who criticize it not only think it is not scientifically sound and relies on stereotypes, but also fear its wide use will further degrade privacy, free speech and human rights in general in China, and promote more censorship and intimidation.

One of the companies producing this tech, Taigusys, says it has its emotion recognition systems installed in 300 prisons and other detention facilities, operating 60,000 networked cameras.

Even Taigusys’ representatives are aware that people in China are unhappy about the rise of this technology – “but they don’t have a choice,” they add.

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