China has just taken a giant step forward in its ambitions to control everything that is done on the Internet, with the launch of a new “rights in cyberspace” law.
It can sometimes seem that the Internet is a “lawless place”, where anyone can do whatever they want; in reality, our actions on the Internet have more and more consequences, and the best example of this is China.
The communist government has not hidden its interest in implementing more controls on the Internet, with the aim of “guaranteeing the rights and interests” of its citizens; however, along the way it is taking decisions that may violate others, such as privacy.
The latest law, which came into force on December 1, is perhaps the most controversial. It implies the obligation to implement facial recognition to hire phone lines or mobile Internet, for all new registrations.
Chinese users are already required to present personal identification and share their personal data to get access to the Internet; with the new law, they will also have to take several photographs at different angles.
These photos will be scanned and analyzed by Artificial Intelligence algorithms, and the user’s identity will be verified. The aim is to ensure that the person who has contracted the line is who he really claims to be; therefore, there would be no doubt that the owner of the line is the person registered in the database.
It is not clear whether data obtained with facial recognition are stored in databases; the law only specifies that this process is carried out to make comparisons with the data already obtained.
Officially, the law has been established to prevent identity theft, in which an Internet user could use a false identification to get a telephone line and commit possible crimes.
However, no one can escape the fact that the Chinese government already uses facial recognition in other more controversial projects, such as the so-called “social credit”, whereby city security cameras recognize acts such as crossing the red light to assign a score to each person.