Fingerprint Scan & Facial Recognition to Enter a Church in China

Fingerprint Scan & Facial Recognition to Enter a Church in China January 23, 2020
Magnifying Glass Over Digital ID Fingerprint (CC0 pxfuel)
Magnifying Glass Over Digital ID Fingerprint (CC0 pxfuel)

I’ve previously written thrice on the moral implications of facial recognition on our privacy. This technology can easily grant governments or corporations undue intrusion into your life. In the USA, we don’t have to worry too much. We think of it in terms of meeting people with irregular political views or a policeman using it to stalk his ex. However, China has started using this much more harshly. It is using this technology to persecute Christians. They scan your fingerprints and face when entering a Church, and link it to government databases. Using this information, they can persecute you and your extended family because you are Christian.

I will quote a report on Christian persecution, and then repeat a little bit about privacy.

Scanning Christians Entering a Church

Bitter Winter, a site dedicated to chronicling Christian persecution in China, reports:

Bitter Winter has earlier reported that a facial recognition system was installed in a government-controlled Three-Self church in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, to check the identity of anyone who enters the place of worship. Such intrusive surveillance is now being introduced in churches in other locations throughout the country.

On October 6, Muyang Church (literally Shepherding Church) in the central province of Hubei, which is also the home of the Two Chinese Christian Councils of Huangshi city, had two biometric devices set up on its second floor. Since then, congregation members have to stand in line to have their faces and fingerprints scanned before being allowed to enter the church. Around the same time, in the city’s state-run Tian’en Church, facial recognition equipment has been also installed to check the believers who attend gatherings.

A believer revealed to Bitter Winter that over a month ago, the local Two Chinese Christian Councils required all meeting venues established by Three-Self churches in Huangshi city to take believers’ fingerprints and put on file their personal and family information.

Thus, it is not just that they want to control official churches so they don’t preach against the Chinese government, they want to know exactly who goes. They want full control.

The Effects of Such Fingerprint and Facial Scanning

Bitter Winter continues:

The churchgoer is disturbed by the order since the requirement not only puts members of congregations under the government’s constant tracking and surveillance but can also implicate their family members and relatives. He added that those relatives who are civil servants or Communist Party members would be most likely punished or have restrictions imposed on their activities; this can even negatively impact their promotion at work. […]

In late September, members of a Three-Self meeting venue in the Nanzhulin community in Huangshi had their fingerprints taken. The person in charge of the venue told them that all congregants have to have their fingerprints scanned to attend Sunday services. “Just like employees punch in at work,” he explained. “In this way, the church can know clearly who attends the services and who doesn’t.”

A congregation member believes that this is how the government is imposing further control over Three-Self believers all over the country.

This is a form of absolute, big-brother, control. Church attendance is not like work: it should be a form of true leisure (cf. Josef Pieper). Persecution already exists for those attending church. This new system now lets the government target relatives who they hope can then pressure you not to go.

Reasons We Should Oppose Such Scanning

In the USA, Canada or the UK (where most of my readers live), there is no persecution like this. However, if we give a government this power, they could use it to persecute groups they don’t like. If a government we disagree with gets in power, we don’t know what could happen. Privacy is a right we should protect for ourselves now, just to have the freedom to go about our business. But, it is also important as intrusions on privacy can be misused after they are granted. If we give any company or government too much information without strong safeguards, that can be misused. Even Google understands this. HuffPost reported in 2017:

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt shared one technology he says is the only one Google has ever built, then withheld: facial recognition.

“We built that technology and we withheld it,” Schmidt said of facial recognition at the All Things Digital D9 conference in California. “As far as I know, it’s the only technology Google has built and, after looking at it, we decided to stop.”

“I’m very concerned personally about the union of mobile tracking and face recognition,” he explained, adding that the company feared that these capabilities could be used both for good and “in a very bad way.” Schmidt described a scenario in which an “evil dictator” could use facial recognition to identify people in a crowd and use the technology “against” its citizens.

We Catholics should have serious ethical concerns about maintaining our privacy, especially with facial recognition.

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