China: Law professor takes safari park to court for endangering consumers' safety with collecting facial scan data

Author: Hong Kong Free Press, Published on: 12 January 2020

“China facial-recognition case puts Big Brother on trial”, 12 January 2020

Facial-recognition technology has become embedded in China, from airports to hotels, e-commerce sites and even public toilets, but a law professor had enough when asked to scan his face at a safari park.

Guo Bing took the wildlife park to court, raising the temperature in a growing debate about privacy and abuse of personal data in an increasingly digitised society…

Online posts regarding the case on the popular Weibo platform have garnered more than 100 million views, with many users calling for a ban on collecting such data.

The sentiment stems in part from the rampant abuse of personal data in China, ranging from outright financial fraud to the common leaking of mobile phone numbers to phishing operations.

In a recent article posted online that generated wide discussion in China, Lao Dongyan, a law professor at prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, called abuse of facial recognition data “a deal with the devil”.

“The wanton promotion of facial-recognition technology will open Pandora’s box. The price we pay will be not only our privacy, but also the security we strive for,” Lao wrote.

Guo, a professor at Zhejiang Sci-Tech University in Hangzhou, said in his civil complaint that collection of data like facial scans, “if leaked, illegally provided or abused, will easily endanger consumers’ personal and property safety”.

A hearing date is yet to be announced. Guo could not be reached for comment.

A newspaper published by the Ministry of Science and Technology said the safari park’s “rash and rough attitude showed indifference” to public sensitivities. Laws must be used to prevent “overreach”, it added.

On December 30, the government issued a directive specifying a range of practices related to the collection and use of personal information via mobile phone apps that it considered to be unlawful.

China still lacks a specific set of laws governing personal data. Legislation is now being formulated, but it remains unclear when it could be introduced…

… the China Consumers Association in November 2018 released a report stating that more than 90 percent of mobile apps were suspected of excessively collecting personal information, and 10 percent excessively amassing biometric data…

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