China – which surveils everyone everywhere – floats facial recognition rules

Regulator says with a straight face that it should not be allowed to analyze ethnicity

China has released draft regulations to govern the country's facial recognition technology that include prohibitions on its use to analyze race or ethnicity.

According to the the Cyberspace Administration of China(CAC), the purpose is to "regulate the application of face recognition technology, protect the rights and interests of personal information and other personal and property rights, and maintain social order and public safety" as outlined by a smattering of data security, personal information, and network laws.

The draft rules, which are open for comments until September 7, include some vague directives not to use face recognition technology to disrupt social order, endanger national security, or infringe on the rights of individuals and organizations.

The rules also state that facial recognition tech must be used only when there is a specific purpose and sufficient necessity, strict protection measures are taken, and only when non-biometric measures won't do.

It makes requirements to obtain consent before processing face information, except for cases where it's not required, which The Reg assumes means for individuals such as prisoners and in instances of national security. Parental or guardian consent is needed for those under the age of 14.

Building managers can't require its use to enter and exit property – they must provide alternative measures of verifying a personal identity for those who want it.

It also can't be leaned into for "major personal interests" such as social assistance and real estate disposal. For that, manual verification of personal identity must be used with facial recognition used only as an auxiliary means of verifying personal identity.

And collecting images for internal management should only be done in a reasonably sized area.

In businesses like hotels, banks, airports, art galleries, and more, the tech should not be used to verify personal identity. If the individual chooses to link their identity to the image, they should be informed either verbally or in writing and provide consent.

Collecting images is also not allowed in private spaces like hotel rooms, public bathrooms, and changing rooms.

Furthermore, those using facial surveillance techniques must display reminder signs, and personal images along with identification information must also be kept confidential, and only anonymized data may be saved.

Under the draft regs, those that store face information of more than 10,000 people must register with a local branch of the CAC within 30 working days.

Most interesting, however, is Article 11, which, when translated from Chinese via automated tools, reads:

No organization or individual shall use face recognition technology to analyze personal race, ethnicity, religion, sensitive personal information such as beliefs, health status, social class, etc.

The CAC does not say if the Chinese Communist Party counts as an "organization."

Human rights groups have credibly asserted that Uyghurs are routinely surveilled using facial recognition technology, in addition to being incarcerated, required to perform forced labor, re-educated to abandon their beliefs and cultural practices, and may even be subjected to sterilization campaigns.

Just last month, physical security monitoring org IPVM reported it came into possession of a contract between China-based Hikvision and Hainan Province's Chengmai County for $6 million worth of cameras that could detect whether a person was ethnically Uyghur using minority recognition technology.

Hikvision denied the report and said it last provided such functionality in 2018.

Beyond facilitating identification of Uyghurs, it's clear the cat is out of the bag when it comes to facial recognition technology in China by both government and businesses alike. Local police use it to track down criminals and its use feeds into China's social credit system.

"'Sky Net,' a facial recognition system that can scan China's population of about 1.4 billion people in a second, is being used in 16 Chinese cities and provinces to help police crackdown on criminals and improve security," said state-sponsored media in 2018.

Regardless, the CAC said those violating the new draft rules once passed would be held to criminal and civil liability. ®

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