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China introduces mandatory face scans for cellphone users

BEIJING: China will require telecom operators to collect face scans when registering new phone users at offline outlets starting on Sunday, according to the country’s information technology authority, as Beijing continues to tighten cyberspace controls.

In September, China’s industry and information technology ministry issued a notice on “safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of citizens online”, which laid out rules for enforcing real-name registration.

The notice said telecom operators should use “artificial intelligence and other technical means” to verify people’s identities when they take a new phone number.

Though the Chinese government has pushed for real-name registration for phone users since at least 2013 — meaning ID cards are linked to new phone numbers — the move to leverage AI comes as facial recognition technology gains traction across China where the tech is used for everything from supermarket checkouts to surveillance.

Online, Chinese social media users reacted with a mix of support and worry over the facial verification notice, with some voicing concerns their biometric data could be leaked or sold.

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