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Backlash against facial recognition in Beijing

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A security check at a Beijing subway station. Photo via China Daily.

Facial recognition technology is coming to the Beijing subway system, and not everyone is okay with that. Jeff Ding of the ChinAI Newsletter has translated an essay by Professor Láo Dōngyàn 劳东燕 of Tsinghua University, originally posted to WeChat (in Chinese), in which she argues against the technology. In her words:

If this society has not yet fallen into a state of persecution and paranoia, it is time to say enough on security issues. The hysterical pursuit of security has brought to society not security at all, but complete suppression and panic.

Lao’s key concerns are about:

  • The authorities’ ability to protect sensitive personal information.
  • A lack of public consultation.
  • A lack of transparency around how screenings will be conducted and fears over discrimination.
  • Insufficient evidence that facial recognition promotes a more efficient transport system.

It is a common misconception that Chinese people are unconcerned with data privacy. To the contrary, a recent survey conducted by the Nandu Personal Information Protection Research Center in Beijing showed that “74 percent of respondents want the option to choose traditional ID methods over facial recognition,” the Financial Times reports.

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