The Chinese Communist Party's algorithmic surveillance system – filtering, collecting, and analyzing staggering volumes of data flowing across the internet and justifying controls in the name of national security and social stability – is not new to the ears. Such experiments with digital surveillance pose a grave threat to the freedom of expression as well as other human rights issue and the Chinese are increasingly becoming concerned of it.
Based on the collection and handling of such a vast array of data, with a lack of safeguards over its usage being cited by civic authorities, a UK-based technology firm, Comparitech, has ranked China as the world's worst offender mishandling the biometric data and even protecting them.
Data leaks and privacy remain top concerns
In a report, titled "Protected: Biometric data: 96 countries ranked by how they're collecting it and what they're doing with it", released in January, the British firm claimed China to have adopted widespread and invasive use of facial recognition technology.
The report also found a lack of privacy safeguards for employees in workplaces and noted mandatory fingerprinting for anyone who entered the country's territory.
According to it, the invasive usage of biometric data has particularly been heightened since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic a year ago. That was the time when Beijing also initiated the "usage of drones with facial recognition to monitor people outside their homes during lockdowns", the report stated further.
The Chinese government had reportedly installed cameras on buses to measure peoples' temperatures and grab a photo of their forehead in order to recognize the facial details of individuals, irrespective of wearing Covid-19 protective masks.
The report placed Costa Rica, Iran and the United States on second, third and fourth positions respectively. While African nations, including Ethiopia, and several European countries, such as Portugal and Ireland, were attributed as having the best practices based on how little data they collected as well as the strong security surveillance for protecting that data.
Chinese people despise it
As a matter of fact, artificial intelligence and its applications constitute an exponential component of the Chinese government strategy. These biometric data is regularly used in key areas, such as scanning users' fingerprints or faces to pay bills, shame jaywalkers and even prevent toilet paper theft.
As a negative effect, the over-collection of such data has led to leaks, with images of people's faces, national identification numbers as well as phone numbers been frequently found for sale online at alarmingly low prices, some even for 0.5 yuan or 8 US cents per face.
A survey conducted last month by Beijing News Think Tank of 1,515 anonymous people found that almost 90 percent of them opposed the government's usage of facial recognition technology in commercial zones.
Thankfully, some civic authorities meddled in the affair and expressed concern regarding commercial abuse of the data. It is said that they have also issued a draft Personal Information Protection Law in December, which is designed to curb tech companies' control over personal data. The law states that sensitive information should only be used for specific purposes and only when "sufficiently necessary."