Customers in China who buy SIM cards or register new mobile-phone services must have their faces scanned under a new law that came into effect yesterday. China’s government says the new rule, which was passed into law back in September, will “protect the legitimate rights and interest of citizens in cyberspace.”
A controversial step: It can be seen as part of an ongoing push by China’s government to make sure that people use services on the internet under their real names, thus helping to reduce fraud and boost cybersecurity. On the other hand, it also looks like part of a drive to make sure every member of the population can be surveilled.
How do Chinese people feel about it? It’s hard to say for sure, given how strictly the press and social media are regulated, but there are hints of growing unease over the use of facial recognition technology within the country. From the outside, there has been a lot of concern over the role the technology will play in the controversial social credit system, and how it’s been used to suppress Uighur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang.
Homeland Security wants to expand facial recognition checks for travelers arriving to and departing from the U.S. to also include citizens, which had previously been exempt from the mandatory checks.
In a filing, the department has proposed that all travelers, and not just foreign nationals or visitors, will have to complete a facial recognition check before they are allowed to enter the U.S., but also to leave the country.
Facial recognition for departing flights has increased in recent years as part of Homeland Security’s efforts to catch visitors and travelers who overstay their visas. The department, whose responsibility is to protect the border and control immigration, has a deadline of 2021 to roll out facial recognition scanners to the largest 20 airports in the United States, despite facing a rash of technical challenges.
But although there may not always be a clear way to opt-out of facial recognition at the airport, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents — also known as green card holders — have been exempt from these checks, the existing rules say.
Now, the proposed rule change to include citizens has drawn ire from one of the largest civil liberties groups in the country.
“Time and again, the government told the public and members of Congress that U.S. citizens would not be required to submit to this intrusive surveillance technology as a condition of traveling,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union .
“This new notice suggests that the government is reneging on what was already an insufficient promise,” he said.
“Travelers, including U.S. citizens, should not have to submit to invasive biometric scans simply as a condition of exercising their constitutional right to travel. The government’s insistence on hurtling forward with a large-scale deployment of this powerful surveillance technology raises profound privacy concerns,” he said.
Citing a data breach of close to 100,000 license plate and traveler images in June, as well as concerns about a lack of sufficient safeguards to protect the data, Stanley said the government “cannot be trusted” with this technology and that lawmakers should intervene.