Critics call China's mandatory facial recognition tech in cellphones a 'wake up call'

Critics call China's mandatory facial recognition tech in cellphones a 'wake up call'

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Critics call China's mandatory facial recognition tech in cellphones a 'wake up call'

December 2, 2019 2:21 PM

iStock(NEW YORK) -- China's requirement that all new mobile phone users submit a facial scan went into effect, as international critics wary of the new tech called the move a "wake up call to people everywhere."

The new regulations were announced by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology as a way to protect citizens' interests and rights in cyberspace, as well as to protect against fraud, in a statement. The new facial scan requirement took effect on Sunday.

Critics of facial recognition technology, especially when implemented by government agencies, argue it is an invasive form of surveillance, and say the controversial tech is creeping its way into law enforcement uses in the U.S. as well.

"Facial recognition is a uniquely dangerous form of surveillance. It enables governments to engage in invasive and ubiquitous monitoring of an entire population," Evan Greer, the deputy director of Fight for the Future, a nonprofit digital rights advocacy group, told ABC News.

"There's no evidence that this type of technology improves public safety, but it's ideal for authoritarian control," Greer said.

Greer said that while it is "tempting" and can be convenient for Westerners to "point fingers at China" for their use of biometric surveillance technology, "the reality is that face surveillance programs are spreading quickly in the US and Europe as well."

A Washington Post investigation in July said that the U.S.’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials used facial recognition technology to go through state driver’s license databases.

Also in July, a UK-based report found that 80% of facial recognition suspects flagged by London’s Metropolitan Police were innocent.

Greer and Fight for the Future are advocating for an outright ban on facial recognition technology for surveillance purposes.

"China's implementation of this technology should be a wake-up call to people everywhere who care about basic human liberty," she said.

In October, California passed a bill making it the largest state in the nation to ban facial recognition software in police body cameras.

“Face-scanning police body cameras have no place on our streets, where they can be used for dragnet surveillance of Californians, our locations, and our personal associations,” Matt Cagle, the technology and civil liberties attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California said in a statement when the bill was signed by the governor.

Cagle argued that the bill "helps ensure Californians don’t become test subjects for an invasive and dangerous tracking technology that undermines our most fundamental civil liberties and human rights.”

The city of San Francisco took it a step further in May, becoming the first U.S. city to block the use of facial recognition tech by all police and city agencies.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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