China Proposes Stricter Regulations on Facial Recognition to Protect Privacy

UTC by Chimamanda U. Martha · 4 min read
China Proposes Stricter Regulations on Facial Recognition to Protect Privacy
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The new regulations highlight the importance of obtaining parental consent when collecting facial biometric data from individuals under the age of 14.

China, a country known for its widespread adoption of facial recognition technology, is taking steps to establish more defined boundaries for its usage. The move is part of Beijing’s broader efforts to regulate major tech sectors, including cybersecurity, data security, and privacy protection. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the nation’s top internet watchdog, has unveiled a series of proposed measures to regulate the application of facial recognition technology across various sectors.

Facial recognition technology has become an integral part of everyday life in China, finding its way into various aspects of society. The tools have been employed in the public and private sectors, from authentication methods for supermarket payments to identity verification procedures at airport boarding gates. However, its pervasive use has sparked admiration for its convenience and concerns regarding privacy and bias.

The proposed measures, released on August 8, emphasize individual rights and consent when it comes to facial recognition. The rules require that facial recognition technology be limited to “specific purposes and full necessity,” and it mandates individual approval or written consent.

China Restricts Use of Facial Recognition to Profile Individuals

In addition to obtaining individual consent, the drafted laws require clear signage as mandatory in public areas where facial recognition is employed, ensuring that individuals are aware of its usage. Notably, hotels, airports, museums, and other venues are prohibited from coercing people into accepting facial scans for reasons such as “business operations” or “service enhancements.”

“Business establishments such as hotels, banks, stations, airports, stadiums, exhibition halls, museums, art galleries, libraries, etc., shall not use face recognition technology to verify personal identity unless required by laws and administrative regulations to conduct business. Forcing, misleading, defrauding, or coercing individuals to accept facial recognition technology to verify personal identity on the grounds of improving service quality,” reads the drafted laws.

One significant aspect of the proposed rules is the restriction on using facial recognition technology to “analyze… ethnicity or religion.” This prohibition aligns with global concerns over the potential misuse of technology for profiling and discrimination. China’s efforts to address these concerns reflect a growing awareness of the ethical implications of facial recognition technology.

New Rules Require Certain Companies to Register with the CAC

The drafted measures also address concerns about the accuracy and fairness of algorithms. It stipulates that facial recognition technology should not be the sole means of access to a building, mitigating situations where individuals might feel coerced into using it.

Furthermore, the new regulations highlight the importance of obtaining parental consent when collecting facial biometric data from individuals under the age of 14.

Due to these measures, corporate entities using facial recognition technology will bear higher operational costs. Those possessing facial data on more than 10,000 individuals must register with a local branch of the CAC. The registration process requires organizations to explain the purpose of data collection and their plans for data protection.

Additionally, collectors are prohibited from retaining facial images in their original resolution without individual authorization.

While the proposed measures signal progress in regulating facial recognition technology, concerns regarding its potential misuse persist. China has faced scrutiny for deploying facial recognition systems to identify individuals’ ethnicities, particularly in cases involving the Uyghur population, an ethnic minority group of Muslims primarily inhabiting the western Xinjiang region.

A few years ago, the country used facial recognition technologies produced by Huawei and Megvii, one of China’s largest artificial intelligence companies, to profile the Uyghur people. However, with the proposed rules, the country has warned organizations and individuals should refrain from using facial recognition technology to create profiles based on sensitive information like race, ethnicity, religion, health, or social class.

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