China’s First Legal Suit on Facial Recognition

China’s First Legal Suit on Facial Recognition

Yu Duo Tian, 2019

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The Chinese government has aggressively rolled out facial recognition since 2014. Police use it to find and apprehend criminals; airport officials deploy it for security and border customs checks. Banks, shops, subways, gyms, offices and schools scan faces as well. But even in China, privacy and security concerns are taking hold. Who’s collecting, saving and using the data? As the first lawsuit a Chinese person filed against the use of facial recognition goes to trial, blogger Fu Bo advocates for privacy: Both citizens and the government, she says, need to take privacy more seriously.


A Chinese university professor launched the country’s first legal challenge to facial recognition technology.

On October 28, 2019, Guo Bing, a professor of law at Zhejiang Sci-Tech University, filed a lawsuit against Hangzhou Safari Park for requiring facial recognition at the ticket gate. The zoo had installed the new system to identify members, replacing the fingerprint identification system it had used in the past.

The lawsuit gained widespread support among Chinese citizens. The backlash against facial recognition technology surprised the zoo administrators. No one had objected to the zoo’s collection and storage of data in the fingerprint system, even though patrons had to supply their name, phone number and government-issued ID number besides the biometric data. However, by using facial recognition, the zoo apparently crossed a line. 

Facial recognition is commonplace in China, and up until late 2019, the public didn’t object. 

China’s public has been slow to respond to privacy issues. Few raised objections when facial recognition began trending: consumers didn’t complain when Alipay and WeChat introduced...

About the Author

Fu Bo writes on her blog Yu Duo Tian, where she follows the latest developments in artificial intelligence and the controversies surrounding their application. 

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