Chinese law professor's social media denunciation of facial recognition in the Beijing subway system

Lao Dongyan is a professor specializing in Criminal Law at Tsinghua University; on Oct 31, she posted a long, thoughtful piece to their public Wechat account about the announcement that Beijing's metro system will soon deploy facial recognition to "improve efficiency of passenger traffic." Prof Lao makes a smart, thorough argument against this, drawing on both China's rule of law, international privacy norms, and lack of meaningful consent.

Prof Lao's critique is a springboard for a wider critique of facial recognition by the private sector, and the power for both private and state abuse of biometric data.

The post was translated into English and posted by Jeffrey Ding, a PhD candidate in International Relations at Oxford. What struck me was the strong expectation among this Chinese legal scholar that the rule of law and proportionality will be observed by the Chinese state, which is very different from how westerners think of the Chinese political situation and of how we believe Chinese people think of their political situation.

What really gives me concern and fear was that my information is being abused by public authorities; because when they misuse the data, I have no idea what the price would be for myself and my family, property, reputation, occupation, freedom, health, or life. Everything is possible.

In the name of security, for public places like the subway where large numbers of people flow in and out, first it was an item inspection, then a bodily inspection. Now facial recognition is also being pushed. In a few years, will we go further and implement genetic or fingerprint recognition? According to the current trend, this possibility is entirely present. In the near future, perhaps public transportation such as the subway will become a privilege, available to only some members of society.

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.

In the end, I solemnly recommend that the National People's Congress Standing Committee conduct a fundamental legitimacy review for the Beijing Metro's measure to employ facial recognition for security screening. At the same time, it should consider initiating corresponding legislative procedures for a legal approach to regulating the arbitrary use of facial recognition technology.

Tsinghua Professor Lao Dongyan: The hidden worries of facial recognition technology [Jeffrey Ding]

(via Four Short Links)