The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has rolled out a biometrics-based online identification system that is better able to track its citizens’ online activities than the current system, RFA has learned.
The Ministry of Public Security is testing an online ID card in southeast China’s Fujian province and southern Guangdong province, before rolling it out nationwide, sources said.
China has long required its internet users to register for online accounts using their real names, backed by a national smart ID card.
However, applicants for the new online card will have to provide biographical data, including facial scans and a fingerprint, to police before they can access certain online services, according to recent state media reports.
Tseng Yi-shuo, head of cybersecurity at the National Defense and Security Research Institute on the democratic island of Taiwan, said the program’s biggest problem is the intention to collect personal data. on people in a centralized location.
“We are talking about the most confidential and sensitive personal information, including health, as well as biological data,” Tseng said. “This is a large-scale data collection.”
“If they want to use it for other purposes [than when I signed up]will they inform me or obtain my consent beforehand?
“Decentralized surveillance is always better than Big Brother-type totalitarian surveillance,” he said.
The scheme raised concerns that the new ID card could soon be required to access online services and that it would give CCP officials access to people’s browsing history for evaluation.
“Of course, it’s clear that’s the intention,” Tseng said. “They continue to push the boundaries of real name registration.”
Former Tsinghua University politics professor Wu Qiang said there are parallels between the massive use of citizen data in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Ministry of Public Security’s claim that they are cracking down on online crime…essentially means they are going to limit everyone’s freedom as a price to pay for it,” Wu said.
“It’s very similar to the programs they had in place during the pandemic shutdowns,” he said.
He said he expects controls and restrictions on internet use in China to continue to grow, until they are widely seen as normal across the country.
Rights groups say CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping has been building a dystopian digital surveillance state to promote his brand of totalitarian rule, since the start of an indefinite term in 2018.
The Chinese Human Rights Defenders Network (CHRD) said in its February annual report that the CCP is expanding the use of artificial intelligence, including facial recognition, DNA collection technologies and big data algorithms, to monitor and target critics and suppress ethnic minority groups.
The report says anyone taken to a police station is now subject to standard biometric data collection, including fingerprinting, DNA and blood sampling and biometric photograph taking, while forced collection of biometric data was common at police checkpoints in Xinjiang.
Meanwhile, police knocked on doors or summoned people who were using virtual private networks (VPNs) to access foreign social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and forced them to delete their posts or accounts. said the group.
He called on Beijing to end censorship and dismantle the digital surveillance police state, including the complex system of blocks, filters and human censorship known collectively as the Great Firewall.
Reported by Gao Feng and Siu Fung Lau for RFA’s Mandarin and Cantonese services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.