China pilots biometric ID cards to monitor citizens’ online activities

China pilots biometric ID cards to monitor citizens’ online activities

The Chinese Communist Party (CPP) has announced that it is looking to put in place a new kind of online digital ID card, which Radio Free Asia says will be used to better check the activities of citizens online.

The biometric cards are currently undergoing trials in the south eastern province of Fujian and the southern province of Guangdong under the auspices of the Ministry of Public Security, RFA reports. After this pilot, the cards will then be rolled out across the entire nation.

The report cites recent information by the Chinese state media as suggesting that those applying for the new online cards will be expected to furnish the police with some of their biometric data such as facial images and fingerprints.

The Chinese government is said to have long ordered that all internet users in the country possess an online account created with their official names and supported by a digital national ID.

The recent development on the establishment of a new online biometric ID card has sparked mixed reactions in China, with some right activists raising concerns about the safety of the biometric data collected for the scheme.

Tseng Yi-shuo, a top cybersecurity official at the Institute for National Defence and Security Research in Taiwan told Radio Free Asia he was worried that the data collected will be held in a centralized location.

“We are talking about the most confidential and sensitive personal information including health, as well as biodata. This is data collection on a massive scale. If they want to use it for a different purpose [than when I signed up], will they notify me or obtain my consent beforehand? Decentralized surveillance is always better than totalitarian, Big Brother-style surveillance,” he was quoted by Radio Free Asia as opining.

Apart from concerns about the manner in which the data collected will handled and used, there are also fears that the introduction of the new cards may just be a move by the CPP in tightening its control of citizens’ online activities.

This, the Radio Free Asia report notes, comes at a time when the CPP regime has been indicted in a report by the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network for using artificial intelligence including facial recognition, DNA collection technologies and big data algorithms to monitor and suppress critical voices online and offline.

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