China has implemented a new policy requiring citizens who want new phone service to scan their faces to verify identities instead of simply presenting ID cards, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
The new requirement went into effect Sunday (Dec. 1), and it was ostensibly put into place to tamp down on fraud and stop the illegal sales of mobile phone cards.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced the move in September and didn’t say what was going to happen to existing phone customers.
Facial recognition technology is more and more prevalent in China, and many authorities in the country have been using it to keep an eye on the population, as well as a way to help jumpstart the economy.
The technology has had its fair share of controversy, especially in the region of Xinjiang, where it has been used to spy on the area’s Uighur Muslims.
Many said the move raises privacy concerns, especially if citizens don’t have any other option.
The ministry gave telecom companies in the country a deadline of the end of November to get the technology in place, saying they could use “artificial intelligence or other technological means” to make sure that a person’s identity could be verified. The law doesn’t say anything about nationality or mobile virtual network operators, which are in the business of reselling services.
Ben Cavender, Shanghai-based managing director at China Market Research Group, said the new requirements will allow the Chinese state to track people based on their ethnicity, as well as other factors.
“From the individual standpoint, it is a little scary because it feels like you don’t have a lot of privacy,” Cavender said. “There is a pervasive sense of someone knowing what you’re doing at all times.”