China Takes Another Step into '1984'
Buying a cellphone in the U.S. can be a complicated business. First you have to decide: Feature phone, Android, or iPhone? Then there's the credit check hassle, picking the right data plan, deciphering the contract, and setting up your payment plan. Buying a cellphone in Communist China is probably just as complicated, and as of Sunday, phone buyers must also submit to a government-mandated 3-D facial scan.
Quartz reported on Sunday that Beijing claims that the mandatory face scans "protect the legitimate rights and interest of citizens in cyberspace," and that "artificial intelligence and other technical methods" would be applied to ensure a perfect match of citizen subject to SIM card. Now, when Chinese walk the streets of their own cities, the ever-present surveillance cameras will have no problem matching their faces to the phones in their pockets -- the location of which is already known.
It's one more brick in the wall the Chinese Communist Party has been building to safeguard its power and privileges. In fact, the facial scanning mandate might just be the biggest and strongest brick. Totalitarian regimes collapse, in part, because oppression is inefficient. Beijing means to fix that, using the power of networked computing and big data. The problem is that while it's comparatively easy to build giant data centers, it's much more difficult gathering reliable data.