The Supreme People’s Court, the highest court in China, decided that private businesses can only use facial recognition to collect and analyze data with the “independent” consent of the individual in question.
From now on, if a private entity uses facial recognition without official permission, it will be considered a violation of personal rights—a civil offense. The aggrieved will then be able to file a lawsuit and, if successful, receive compensation.
This comes at a time when private businesses and venues in China, such as malls, event stadiums, hotels, and transport terminals, are hurrying to install facial recognition technology.
The authentication method, backed by the correct AI, can streamline crowd monitoring, be used in lieu of physical passes, and soon, tailor customer experiences and advertising.
The speed of implementation prompted concern from local governance in several cities earlier this year. During the annual Consumer Protection Gala in March 2021, several companies were identified as guilty of abusing facial recognition tech.
According to the Administration for Market Regulation, three companies in Ningbo “violated the consumer protection law by collecting and using facial identity without consent.” Each of them faced a fine of $38,500.
Tech Tug of War
Despite the new protection measures against a non-consensual collection of facial recognition data by private entities, citizens are not protected from the technology completely.
The Chinese Police Services and other governmental organizations can still legally use this authentication method for law enforcement and national security purposes.
The Chinese government uses facial recognition for speedy background checks on criminal suspects in transport hubs and to identify people perpetrating misdemeanors in real-time.
The current technology boom has governments and citizens concerned about the use of new tech. They fear the increase of crimes like ID theft, the commodification of data feeding advertising algorithms, and publicly accessible people search sites.
In something of a reverse, citizens are concerned about government oversight too. Some countries struggle to curb the unregulated use of facial recognition by individual officers in their own agencies.
The move by Chinese authorities to eliminate the abuse of facial recognition in the private sector is a positive step. However, a lot more developments are necessary globally.