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12/02/2019 China (International Christian Concern) – In the name of security, Beijing is requesting telecom operators to collect face scans when registering new phone users at offline outlets starting this December, according to the country’s information technology authority.

China’s industry and information technology ministry issued a notice on “safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of citizens online” in September, laying out rules for enforcing real-name registration. Telecom operators are asked to use “artificial intelligence and other technical means” to verify people’s identities when they apply for a new phone number.

The measure, described by the ministry as a way to “protect the legitimate rights and interest of citizens in cyberspace”, makes Chinese mobile phone and internet users easier to track.

The expanded usage of facial recognition in China, from middle schools to supermarkets and public transport, has begun raising concerns about information security and consent. While some Chinese netizens are in support of the government’s new initiative, others are concerned about the extent of personal data collected by the government and tightened surveillance on its people. “What are they afraid of?” one internet use asked.

In China, rights activists, lawyers, and religious or ethnic minority groups are often being monitored by Beijing. ICC staff has heard that some Chinese Christians learn to wrap their cell phones with aluminum foil to avoid being tracked by the authorities. Some also believe their cell phones are tapped so they only share crucial information in face to face meetings.

While China’s newly adopted security measure is applicable to all, it is without doubt that the groups aforementioned could easily become victims of harassment, arrest or oppression.

For interviews, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected].