Our face is the most revealing and most telling part of our body, which is why it is the focus of many security systems. It is, however, also the center of controversy when it comes to privacy issues. Face recognition can be a convenient and powerful tool when used properly but it can also be a dangerous weapon depending on who wields it. That may be one of the concerns even among China’s citizens now that their government is requiring them to submit face scans when they’re simply trying to get a new phone line.
China’s new law, which went into effect December 1st, goes above and beyond what some would consider normal for applying for mobile plans or buying a SIM. In addition to presenting the usual credentials, like a national ID, in this case, Chinese consumers are now required to also have their photos taken. On the surface, this will be used to eventually verify that the buyer’s identity but that isn’t its only purpose.
Since China hasn’t had such a rule in place before, this new law would help the government grow its existing database for facial recognition. There are already financial services that use face recognition as a security feature but this takes on a different flavor when it isn’t being used by the mobile user for any purpose.
Naturally, there are concerns that the Chinese government will be able to acquire this data for its surveillance network. Considering how many people own phones and phone lines these days, that will represent a large number of China’s citizens. Some are already worried about how it could affect users of social media networks and that has always been a large target of China’s authorities.
While such a law will never fly in other countries, at least not yet, it does reveal how face recognition is becoming the next big arena for privacy wars. Some governments might not even need to require people to submit their faces since a good number are willing to hand over that kind of data in exchange for making them look older or younger, at least virtually.