China to regulate facial recognition technology amidst privacy concerns

China has issued draft regulations to restrict the use of facial recognition technology, stating that it can only be used with a specific purpose, sufficient necessity and strict safeguards.

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The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has issued draft rules to oversee the security management of facial recognition technology. The rules follow public concerns about the overuse of technology. The regulations took effect on 7 September after a public consultation period.

The regulations state that facial recognition technology can only process facial information with a specific purpose, sufficient necessity, and strict safeguards. Using technology to analyse ethnicity or religion is banned. It must also not be used to endanger national security, harm the public interest, or disrupt the social order. Where such methods are equally effective, non-biometric identification solutions should be preferred to facial recognition.

According to the draft rules, image-capturing devices should only be installed publicly for public safety and accompanied by prominent warning signs. In hotel rooms, shared bathrooms, changing rooms, toilets, and other areas where they may invade the privacy of others, image capture and personal identification devices should not be installed.

It added that the processing of facial data could only be carried out with the consent of the individual concerned or with written legal authorisation. However, the rules do not apply to those ‘that are not subject to the requirement of personal consent by law or regulation’.

Why does it matter?

Biometric identification, particularly facial recognition, has become widespread in China. The draft rules come amid Beijing’s efforts to tighten up data regulation through the issuance of several regulations. Notably, China introduced its first law focused on user privacy, the Personal Information Protection Law, in 2021. The issuance of draft rules for overseeing facial recognition technology is a crucial step in China’s ongoing efforts to regulate data usage and protect user privacy. It reflects the government’s recognition of the importance of striking a balance between technological innovation and safeguarding individual rights and serves as a signal for other countries that are grappling with similar concerns about biometric identification technologies.