China is taking every measure it can to verify the identities of its over 850 million mobile internet users.
From Dec. 1, people applying for new mobile and data services will have to have their faces scanned by telecom providers, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said in a Sept. 27 statement(link in Chinese).
MIIT said the step was part of its efforts to “safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of citizens in the cyberspace” and to control phone and internet fraud. In addition to the facial-recognition test, phone users are also banned from passing their mobile phone numbers to others, and encouraged to check if numbers are registered under their name without their consent.
Most countries require some form of ID to sign up for mobile phone contracts—versus for prepaid services—but the facial-recognition requirement seems to be a first. In China, it’s only the latest example of the technology’s embrace by a government that is using it for everything from catching jaywalkers to nabbing criminals at concerts to social profiling, even as other countries go slow due to concerns over privacy and human rights. The new decree is an upgrade of China’s real-name registration system for mobile phone users launched in 2013, which requires people to have their national IDschecked and photos taken by carriers to get a new number. The facial-recognition step will match the image against the person’s stored ID.