Chinese People Becoming ‘Transparent’ With Facial Recognition Technology

A woman's face being scanned by facial recognition technology.

A new report states that China's digital surveillance program or Golden Shield Project is being powered by U.S. technology entities. (Image: Aleksandr Koltyrin via Dreamstime)

The application of facial recognition technology (FRT) in China has penetrated people’s daily lives, making the Chinese people become “transparent,” or without privacy. Many surveys show that Chinese people are worried about personal information leakage and dislike this technology. 

A poll conducted by more than 1,500 people recently published by the Xinjing Think Tank shows that many people oppose the use of FRT. As a result, there was opposition to its use. 87.5 percent of the respondents rejected its use in commercial areas, 68.6 percent in residential areas, and 43 percent in hospitals, schools, and offices. Furthermore, 96.1 percent were worried that authorities would leak their personal information out due to this technology, and 51.4 percent said authorities forced them to accept it. 

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The Facial Recognition Application Public Survey Report (2020) released by the Southern Metropolis Daily in September 2020 also mentioned that most interviewees expressed concerns about the security risks of face scanning, and 63.6 percent of them were worried about “facial information leakage.” Some 54.4 percent were concerned that their “personal whereabouts are continuously recorded,” and 53.7 percent worried about “accounts being stolen, resulting in property losses.” 

People on street in China being scanned by facial recognition technology.
Most Chinese people expressed concerns about the security risks of face scanning. (Image: © Piyamas Dulmunsumphun)

After China began to force mobile phone users to perform facial scans on new mobile phone numbers in 2019, the first large-scale public opinion study on facial recognition in mainland China also reached a similar conclusion. Most respondents worry that system operators lacking in security capabilities will lead to the leakage of facial information. About 74 percent of the respondents hope to have the right to choose whether to adopt facial recognition. 

Even if the public opposes it, the Chinese Government continues to increase the use of FRT. According to the latest statistics from Comparitech, a U.S. science, and technology research website, China has 18 of the 20 cities in the world that are closely monitored by probes, making it a micromanaging country with extensive surveillance. “China’s government not only fails to protect citizens’ privacy but actively invades it,” said the study. The Chinese Communist Party’s official propaganda media, the People’s Daily once claimed on Twitter that China could scan 1.4 billion faces across the country in one second.  

Asian man looking at phone with facial recognition.
China began to force mobile phone users to perform facial scans on new mobile phone numbers in 2019. (Image: 113573630 © Chakrapong Worathat)

Voice of America reported that although the Chinese authorities have also promulgated a series of regulations to solve the FRT problems, these regulations only touch the surface. The report quoted critics as saying that China’s laws and rules altogether avoided the fact that it abused FRT to monitor citizens, mainly because it was regarded as a factor of social instability. The real purpose of this approach is to build China into a digital totalitarian country that is completely controlled by it, and everyone is at risk. 

Kai Strittmatter, a German who formerly worked as a correspondent in China, said in the recently published book We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State that the CCP is increasingly favoring these new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and big data, to strengthen its rule. “No country in the world, including totalitarian governments, can compare with China in this respect.” 

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