May 30, 2024

brightly lit buildings with blue and pink lights

Huangpu River and Shanghai skyline on August 28, 2020.
Photo: Kevin Frayer (Getty Images)

Thanks to data privacy concerns, Chinese officials are reportedly telling hotels in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Hangzhou to stop scanning their guests’ faces.

The hotels received notices from local authorities to stop using facial recognition technology in late March and early April, Chinese business news site Caixin Global reported. Some hotels told Caixin they were told to stop checking guests in with the technology early last year after China’s “zero-COVID” policy was lifted.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV adds that some travelers had recently “reported that when they checked into a hotel in Shanghai, they were told that they no longer needed to undergo a facial scan,” according to Radio Free Asia (RFA). CCTV also cited a government notice from April 12 that said requiring guests to undergo face scansis strictly prohibited if they have presented a valid ID.”

China’s facial surveillance state

Other cities including Guangzhou, Yichang, and Zhuhai are receiving similar notices, CCTV reported. CCTV’s report added that facial recognition technology may have alienate travelers from venturing to China — and inflate business costs in the process. Guo Bing, a professor at Zhejiang University of Science and Technology, told CCTV facial recognition technology also risks data misuse, RFA reported.

The Chinese government has historically turned to facial recognition technology as a way to exert control, crack down on demonstrations, and surveil citizens, including the country’s repressed Uyghur minority. Cameras are ubiquitous in China’s public spaces, monitoring movements and reportedly tracking government dissidents.

In February, the Chinese State Council called for more control over its own mass surveillance system. The council published a document saying local governments must “promptly stop the use of illegal, non-compliant devices, and unnecessary monitoring equipment.” It was time, the document added, for “the clean up and standardization of law enforcement electronic technology monitoring equipment.”

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