Home >Opinion >Quick Edit >Opinion | Big Brother is scanning

China has introduced a new law that makes it mandatory for its citizens to undergo face scans while applying for new SIM cards or buying mobile phones. The policy was first announced in September, when the Chinese government, in an address to telecom operators, said that “artificial intelligence and other technical methods" were being deployed to “protect the legitimate rights and interest of citizens in cyberspace". The policy came into effect on Sunday, and observers expect the scope of Beijing’s facial recognition programme to expand.

Are Chinese citizens nervous? Given their lack of democratic freedoms, they should be. Facial identification by scanners effectively lets the state keep tabs on people in all public spaces, invading their privacy in the name of security. Beijing has maintained that what appears to be a mass surveillance exercise is just a crackdown on cyber fraud and a systematic way of ensuring that all smartphone users are identifiable.

There are already signs of resistance to the government’s move. Many have voiced indignation on social media, saying that this is all being carried out without public consent. While facial recognition does offer convenience—such as automatic billing at grocery stores—its potential for subjecting a population to totalitarian control is also very high. China is currently estimated to have 170 million CCTV cameras across the country, and aims to install another 400 million by next year. An Orwellian nightmare seems lined up—or maybe not, if you ask its version of the ministry of truth.

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