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Chinese telecoms must use "AI and other technical means" to identify phone users (afp.com)
244 points by sahin-boydas 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 185 comments

All: if you comment in this thread, make sure your comments are substantive and that they stay off the nationalistic indignation track. That is all too easy to fall into, and it's off topic here.


@dang I sincerely appreciate what you do. Euphemistically, it's not easy. Please consider unflagging: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21679829

Code is speech.

Just offering another perspective than most others had done here:

I grew up in China and have been in China a few times in the past 10 years - the amount of Robocalls and phone scams was overwhelming (in fact, it was so bad that dual SIM mobile phones became popular because you can have a disposable SIM card for non-essential website registrations and one for family members that you keep private use). I had my identity stolen after somehow I went into China Mobile pop-up service storefront in PEK airport to get a local SIM card. People on the line on my back was so close to the counter and peeking application forms with all sorts of private data, which made me very uncomfortable. There are also organized gangs that are operating in selling people's private identity data like mobile phone numbers. Later it made sense how my identify was stolen in retrospect.

Also, mobile phone number is essentially Chinese citizen's digital identity in a way in that 99% of the website/online services use mobile phone number instead of emails for authentications and 2FA. It's nearly impossible to sign up for any Chinese website without giving your mobile phone number to complete the sign up.

Given China's mobile-centric Internet boom, the amount of phone scams and frauds and identity thefts going on and all businesses (including financial institutions) are relying heavily on, it's a reasonably measure to counter fraud with real identity tying in with mobile phone number issuance.

So no I don't think it's a political motivated move, even though the side effect is making the abuse much more convenient.

>It's nearly impossible to sign up for any Chinese website without giving your mobile phone number to complete the sign up.

No wonder the robocalls and phone scams are overwhelming.

It's essentially the equivalent to western use of e-mail addresses, and e-mail spam was solved by a combination of technical hurdles, deep message inspection, bayesian statistics and penalization of anonymity.

I don't think e-mail spam is solved. It's largely just evolved to a non-competitive market where if you don't go with a major provider you'll forever be battling overzealous spam detection which flags your organization's email as spam. ...And you've lost some anonymity and flexibility.

It's solved for an average person. If you go with a major provider, spam barely exists at all. And even if you go with a smaller provider (like e.g. Fastmail), you barely notice any spam either.

Counterpoint: my burner gmail for account creation with 30k unread emails, mostly spam. Also so much spam gets into my university email accounts, much of it from predatory journals offering to publish anything and everything.

For the university accounts, I'd say only 80% gets trapped into the spam folder (my gmail is an absolute mess, however), but so does 5% of actual relevant emails and conversations, so I'm forced to inspect my spam folder pretty regularly which kinda defeats the purpose of hiding it from view.

I think he's more referring to the problem, where your email sent from a small(ish) provider is flagged by the big boys as spam.

Google is quite notorious for their ever changing goal posts regarding email reception. And if your mail is flagged as spam (and based on my own experience the AI behind it is not very intelligent) the only thing you get back is an automated response with completely and utterly useless "support" links.

So while spam may be solved on an individual user level, it's certainly not on the meta level.

No, it’s not. My gmail inbox is overflowing with spam to the point that I frequently miss important messages because they’re buried in marketing garbage.

That’s not even counting the business related ham google classifies as spam because the sender doesn’t buy email services from people that specialize in making sure marketing trash hits gmail inboxes.

Scammers and spammers aren't using cell phones to make their calls, they abuse VoIP services to do so.

> it's a reasonably measure to counter fraud with real identity tying in with mobile phone number issuance.

Perhaps it achieves the goal, but is it the best approach? Isn't it doubling down on an already problematic scheme? User names and email addresses are more easily swapped than phone numbers, with facial recognition you're locking yourself even more to the phone number, making it even harder to switch when it becomes compromised.

At least here you need a legal address for bank account anyway, so financial institutions can just mail (the dead tree kind) you an unlock code for online banking, this makes a stolen identity far less useful.

There are ways to solve these kinds of problems that don't also feed the surveillance machinery.

True but it will from the first moment go to political motivated move for sure.

I think you gave too much benefit of doubt to the CCP. The CCP can't care less about phone scams and frauds. As a totalitarian state having total control of the society, the government can track down the scammers anytime they want to.

There is no reason to believe the CCP does this to solve the robocalls or phone scams. It would be laughable to think XiJinping and his gangs put this issue on his priority list. The only reason is to locate every individual has a different thought against the government.

We call them "totalitarian", but that doesn't mean the state actually has total control over society. Society is still made up of people. In totalitarian systems, there's still crime and corruption. They may get harshly punished, but the police still needs to uncover it first, and that takes time and resources, and may not always be easy.

Take the Pooh Bear jokes about Xi. He'd love to be able to stop them, but he can't. There's a limit to how total the government's control can be. And with China's capitalist liberalisation, scams and fraud become more attractive, and possibly harder to track down.

Of course Xi stopped Pooh Bear jokes in public space in mainland China. I am not sure what you are talking about.

CPP police always know the small towns of the most robocall farms and phonescam bases. The reason they do not stop those is because local polices take share from crime money, which also contributes to local economy.

If the CCP gang really wants to stop robocalls and phonescams, they only need to send a task force team from the central agencies. Then they can close all the roads around those small towns and shut down all the phone towers, and then capture all the criminals in a few days. There is no need to use AI for this kind of stuff.

Again, it is simply laughable to think Xi's gang care about robocalls and phonescams. They have too many other things to care about.

> They have too many other things to care about.

If they really had total control, having too many other things to care about wouldn't be a problem. After all, they'd totally control those other things as well. But that "task force team from the central agencies" probably has its hands full securing the little control they have.

Given that they do not have total control, things like combating robocalls and phonescams need to be handled by more mundane countermeasures, like adding bureaucratic requirements to the phone number registration process.

While Xi and his gang might not care, there are over 90 million people in the CCP. There are definitely people in there that care.

Those people are also able to introduce legislation.

It’s laughable to think everyone in a China thinks the same.

I am not sure how to respond to this troll. He/She literally created the account to just make this very weird comment.

I’m curious about one thing here. And maybe someone has ideas.

Both China and Soviet Union (probably others too but I don’t know), pre-liberalization were your typical socialist state with lots of means to control people, so they did but... but people didn’t engage in much petty crime or gang crime.

Those types of crimes were more or less very unusual. But in those same states today with more tools to control people, petty crime and gang-related crime (as well as corruption but that kind of always existed), are through the roof.

And it’s not like either are soft on crime.

So what has given a rise to that criminal activity which for practical purposes didn’t exist before. Is it opportunity? That is there was nothing to gain from it before?

There wasn't much organized crime, in the sense of street gangs, in the more urban areas of the Soviet Union. (The various rural provinces, especially in the Soviet-occupied middle east are another story.) There was, of course, plenty of petty crime, smuggling, and un-organized property and violent crime, etc. [1]

The reason for this isn't surveillance or the harshness of punishments.

The reason for it was that when there's an easy default roadmap for your life (School -> Gainful employment), you're not going to drop out of civilized society, and into criminality at the age of 15.

It's not that there's more to gain from criminality now, compared to fifty years ago. It's that there's less to lose. Instead of a social contract that guarantees[2] employment, a shitty apartment, and food on your table, if you just go through the motions, it's a dog-eat-dog-every-man-for-himself world. Unsurprisingly, many people find it easier to drop out of that, and make a living through crime.

[1] Without even mentioning the truly mind-blowing amount of low-level, and high-level corruption that the USSR experienced.

[2] Employment wasn't guaranteed - people had to go apply for jobs, have their employment and social records get checked, there was competition for getting into good jobs, etc - but 100% employment was an official goal of the state. This is not the case in either the West, or the East, anymore.

Thanks I think that explains the carrot portion. The various stick options likely helped too—the various efforts to “eradicate counterrevolutionaries” and decrying leniency and favoring resoluteness and setting goals for executions likely has an impact.

After destalinization, nobody doing law enforcement in the USSR had execution quotas, or was inventing counterrevolutionaries to eradicate.

I would recommend looking up the crime stats for USSR. There's a very big difference between the perception and the reality there.

I would imagine there's also a very big difference between the reported stats and what the reality is

I would imagine there is also a very big differeence between the USSR reported numbers and western estimates. Not sure what the reality you speak of is.

Of course they did. Parents grew up in a former communist country and smuggling in goods, stealing, were all pretty common. The reason you don't hear about it is because if people did those things that would mean that communism is bad and doesn't work. I wouldn't trust the data coming out of a communist country.

During the chernobyl disaster the USSR kept providing false numbers to the world in order to downplay the significance of the event - to the point of sabotaging the cleanup effort and themselves.

Yes they had to fib and lie about production and all their 5-year Plans... but on the other hand most police in those states were unarmed (of course the sentences for being an armed criminal were “prohibitive”)...

They are already monitoring the chat apps. If you say unseemly things, expect this: https://twitter.com/intypython/status/1200466904734785536?s=...

Edit: changed link to original source

My wife has had a few messages "disappear" from WeChat (the Chinese Facebook), and that were not removed by group admins. It seems that at the low end, at least, they're content do just censor, and not take action against the speaker.

> My wife has had a few messages "disappear" from WeChat (the Chinese Facebook), and that were not removed by group admins. It seems that at the low end, at least, they're content do just censor, and not take action against the speaker.

Is she in China or overseas? WeChat has different censorship policies for domestic vs foreign accounts, and silent blocking sometimes occurs when foreign accounts communicate with domestic accounts about sensitive topics [1]. It's also not encrypted, and it appears messages are automatically getting forwarded to the local (Chinese) police for investigation [2].

[1] We (can’t) Chat “709 Crackdown” Discussions Blocked on Weibo and WeChat: https://citizenlab.ca/2017/04/we-cant-chat-709-crackdown-dis...

[2] Over 300 million Chinese private messages were left exposed online: https://www.theverge.com/2019/3/4/18250474/chinese-messages-...

Is she in China or overseas? WeChat has different censorship policies for domestic vs foreign accounts

Fair enough. This was with an account that was registered within China, but the traffic is physically originating from the USA.

Might also depends on the region. Richer regions like Shanghai might have softer rules same as for VPNs.

From that twitter account, a Xinjiang related bill is up for vote this week (https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/178)


With all this laser focus on HK / Xinjiang / Tibet something is bound to come up. If they cut the losses by giving independence, maybe leaders would avoid ICC-esque indictments from all this mess.

Maybe it'd be worth allowing anonymous mandatory polling on policies, that way it's not capitulating to external influences and getting a handle of what people are thinking.

But then maybe it's just better to monitor wechat and QQ. But since people feel their stuffs being read, they'll tone down the rhetoric and "behave good" and feign ignorance. A meaningful way of gauging public opinion is now tainted, so much for that. Now there will pockets of people silently stirring in contempt. The usual suspects and instigators won't be the ones to worry about. It's just too much to handle.

And besides all the while we're daydreaming scenarios China can remain unified, people would feel very strained and be suffering. Where do we draw the line between people's feelings and stubborn pride trying to force far flung regions into submission? Maybe it's best to reframe things into what makes society happiest, easiest to manage, and invent a leadership and organizational structure based on those premises. That'd be the most Chinese thing to do.

If China ever has a prolonged economic downturn and stricter sanctions, what happens then? What moves are left?

This looks horrible, is it confirmed to be true? Why would HK police release video like that, I imagine they would like to keep the interrogations and tortures under the radar?

> Why would HK police release video like that

I get the impression that the video is from the mainland, not Hong Kong. The device he's strapped in looks like a "tiger chair":


Edit: I was looking for a better version of this video on youtube. I couldn't find one, but I did find this English Agence France-Presse story that answers the question of why they'd release a video like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8PgCUap1Vg

The problem with releasing a video is the outrage it provokes.

The benefit of releasing a video is the fear it provokes.

Not saying this is the case here, but obviously if you calculate outrage cannot grow substantially greater than it already is, might as well try provoking some fear.

Of course it might very well be false, this is just my idea as to why someone might release it if real.

Is this even real? Subtitled interrogation video uploaded by an inflammatory twitter account where the line of questioning sounds more like disciplining a toddler than actual police?

Is this serious? I don't understand if it is a joke.

The title sounds intentionally provocative -- "face scanned" appears to be just "have their photo taken". I can't find a single source that suggests anything more than that.

Which isn't much different from having your photo taken for your driver's license, passport, or at the border, all of which the US does.

Burner phones are mostly associated with criminal activity, so tying phones to identities feels like a legitimate function -- which many countries do. And if criminals are trying to register phones through identity theft, this seems like it would be an additional protection.

If you're concerned with privacy, that's what encrypted communications are for, and if you don't want to be tracked by radio, then don't take any phone with you.

> Burner phones are mostly associated with criminal activity, so tying phones to identities feels like a legitimate function -- which many countries do. And if criminals are trying to register phones through identity theft, this seems like it would be an additional protection.

> If you're concerned with privacy, that's what encrypted communications are for...

That's all true, but the real question is: what exactly is "criminal activity?" That's how a policy can be made to seem legitimate on the surface, but can actually be quite sinister when examined more closely.

Policies like this one cannot be examined in isolation, and must be interpreted in context [1].

> If you're concerned with privacy, that's what encrypted communications are for...

I'm pretty sure that E2E encrypted communication products are de-facto banned in China, at least for private citizens [2].

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/25/magazine/the-lonely-crusa...

[2] https://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/20...

>The title sounds intentionally provocative -- "face scanned" appears to be just "have their photo taken". I can't find a single source that suggests anything more than that.

That's all you need for a face scan. You really don't understand how biometrics work do you? You just need a straight on mugshot.

>Burner phones are mostly associated with criminal activity, so tying phones to identities feels like a legitimate function -- which many countries do.

No, mobile prepaid phones are associated with activity where one does not wish to enter onto a full on Know-Your-Customer like relationship to their network. It is completely legitimate. China is just finding an excuse to try to collect biometrics associated with something basically every citizen is going to need to get by.

>If you're concerned with privacy, that's what encrypted communications are for, and if you don't want to be tracked by radio, then don't take any phone with you.

If you don't like the smog, you can just stop breathing. Just saying. If you don't like driver's licenses, you can just take a rickshaw across the country. Just saying. If you don't like the reeducation camps...

When one flippantly dismisses the costs one's policy decisions will enact on one's countrymen, civilization is lost. Given government policy implemented so far, forgive me if I find the motives and applications of this information to be downright worrisome.

> If you're concerned with privacy, that's what encrypted communications are for, and if you don't want to be tracked by radio, then don't take any phone with you.

Then people like my mom get tracked and people like my nerdy friends don't. When one thinks of policy and consequence surely one doesn't simply say "well she exercised her agency, so that's that."

> If you're concerned with privacy, that's what encrypted communications are for [...]

Privacy includes who you communicate with, when, and how often... not just what you talk about.

This is especially true when there might be an unscrupulous government willing to round up social circles for "re-education."

It would be valuable for technologists to be mindful of the difference between explanation and exhortation, lest they be seen as shifting the moral/legal burden for the operation of a social system entirely onto the shoulders of the individual users who have the least control over it.

Ok, we've put "photo taken" in the title above. Thanks.

It's not "photo taken"


A China Unicom customer service representative told AFP that the December 1 “portrait matching” requirement means customers registering for a new phone number may have to record themselves turning their head and blinking.

Thanks—that's a better article. I've switched to the AFP version of it. (Submitted URL was https://www.technologyreview.com/f/614781/all-new-cellphone-...)

Reading it closely, though, the evidence on the face-scanning point seems weak. The source is a customer service representative who said may. That's two weak points: a customer service representative is not who you'd normally ask about policy, and "may" also means "may not". Also, that's the only thing that particular source is quoted about.

I'm not sure what to do, because there doesn't seem to be anything unambiguous in the English-language press. All the articles I've looked are reporting on the same directive that was issued in Sept and took effect Dec 1. So I guess we'll quote the directive in the title above. If anyone can suggest a more accurate title we can change it again.

Not that there's any moral equivalence, but when I'm in Australia visiting in-laws, I have to provide my passport or similar ID to get my PAYG SIM activated. I just have them swipe it at the airport and my SIM is on in 10 minutes. My wife admits it's a lot easier in the States to get a PAYG SIM; AT&T doesn't care who she is as long as there's money in the account.

I'm not sure why Australia does that, but it's really annoying.

I just drove around Africa, and I bought a pre-paid SIM in about 30 different countries. Every single one of them required a copy of my passport.

In Morocco at least they do ask for your passport if you want free or discounted cell service, but you can always go to a corner store and just get a Sim card from there.

Sure, and it stops working a few days later. I had that happen a few times, then stopped buying SIM cards from random people on the street (or corner stores) and so would go into the actual carrier store (MTN or whatever)

Well, at least in Morocco when I lived there I got my SIM card from the corner store and used it for a good year and a half.

In Africa, aren't phone often used to make financial transactions ? It would make sense to have a bit more security in that case, maybe

Interesting. Absolutely not needed in Ireland.

It's to track crimes associated with burner sims.

* Not trying to justify it either direction.

I wonder does it help? I'm sure that it's easy to find some homeless person, who don't know you and register SIM for his ID.

It helps a lot.

It isn't for tracking homeless people. It's for building network graphs of calls from burner phones to organised crime people.

Most of the time the burners are useless, but once you have a cluster of them you can automatically do data matching on them all, and sometimes (often!) they got lazy on a couple and used the same identities to buy them.

Once you have a few using the same identity then you track that identity down.

The friction in forcing identification means that lazy criminals at the bottom of the structure at some point forget to do it.

> I'm not sure why Australia does that, but it's really annoying.

Suppose you buy a PAYG SIM, and then use it to make death threats or bomb hoax calls. Easy for the police to track you down and arrest you. (Of course, they still could using other means, like geolocation, but that could be a lot more work.)

And, of course, it isn't foolproof – one could use a fake ID, one could pay some random poor person to buy it for you using their ID, etc – but, the kind of people who make death threats or bomb hoaxes usually aren't very smart.

Showing a password vs getting your face scans taken and stored in a gigantic face recognition library is a gigantic difference. Once the state has your biometrics stored, you can be ID'ed without you noticing, e. g. as you walk around the city.

Australia - like many countries - collects fingerprints and photographs from certain groups either when you get your visa or when you enter the country. And I’d be shocked if their entry systems don’t capture 100% of passport photos at the border. I’d be slightly surprised if they don’t additionally correlate passport scans to security photos at the border to further enrich their dataset.

Showing your passport is functionally equivalent to getting your picture taken. It ends up as a record in their databases that says John Smith, with these biometrics, purchased a SIM with this number.

There absolutely is moral equivalence - they're trying to cut off all means of anonymous communication. It's difficult to get a SIM without providing ID in the EU as well, and you have to provide ID when renting a room. I wish the media were always sensitive to privacy erosion, not just when China does it.

I guess using Chinese surveillance tech is a roundabout way of getting them to pay attention, as happened with the Hikvision cameras.

Having a requirement to link a SIM to an individual is not privacy erosion.

It does not mean that usage is monitored, and usage is the important privacy aspect.

Furthermore, this just puts mobile phones on par with landlines. It used to be that having a phone meant having a landline at home, and obviously that meant knowing exactly who a number belonged to.

There needs to be a balance for everything in the real world. And even most Western countries have concluded that requiring IDs for SIM cards is a necessary measure.

Now, for Chinese authorities one issue (without even going into politics) is that China is a very low trust society where it is almost expected that everyone will flaunt the rules at the first opportunity. So I am half guessing that the government sees technological solutions as a way around that.

(As for renting a room, it would be crazy for a landlord not to know who their tenant is just for practical reasons considering land and tenancy laws in most EU countries)

> It does not mean that usage is monitored, and usage is the important privacy aspect.

I think one would have to be especially naive to believe that an ID requirement is in place without any provision for usage monitoring.

Do you think someone is monitoring your landline?

It's incredibly easy nowadays. Compressed voice takes very little to archive. Speech recognition allows to index everything. I don't believe that every government does not do this.

Well, we've been assured by the likes of James Clapper that no one is listening, so...

This has been known for a fact for the last 13 years: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Room_641A

Edit: Downvotes for a factual answer? Pathetic.

It is absolutely beyond dispute that all communications are being monitored at all times by a variety of government and non-governmental agencies. Being forced to link your identity to these communications is yet another step down towards absolute tyranny (and we are already near the bottom step).

It's not necessarily a step towards tyranny in itself... but when tyranny does come, it will make life very easy for the tyrants.

I feel anonymity is a part of privacy, and anything that limits anonymity also affects privacy.

>Furthermore, this just puts mobile phones on par with landlines. It used to be that having a phone meant having a landline at home, and obviously that meant knowing exactly who a number belonged to.

Not really. Unless you lived alone, a landline was often shared with everyone in the household. Furthermore, just because there is a link (by necessity of delivering a service to a physical location), doesn't mean there needs to be a link.

> And even most Western countries have concluded that requiring IDs for SIM cards is a necessary measure.

> (As for renting a room, it would be crazy for a landlord not to know who their tenant is just for practical reasons considering land and tenancy laws in most EU countries)

That's circular reasoning, and could be applied to any law.

Edit: How it's circular reasoning:

"The law is necessary because it has been enacted."

"It's necessary to collect ID when renting a room, because the law requires it."

As for how "most Western countries determined it was necessary" - there weren't exactly large, public debates and demands as happened for e.g. gay rights, were there? The laws just came about, very discreetly.

Edit2, due to posting limit: I did no conflating - my point applies to both your statements, separately.

How is that circular reasoning?

Edit: I have seen your edit.

I did not write that. You are conflating 2 unrelated topics and 2 unrelated parts of my comment although they were clearly separated.

In many countries IDs are not required by law in order to rent a house (afaik). In the UK (which I know most) it only became a requirement a couple of years ago, specifically to check that the prospective tenant was not an illegal immigrant (in fact the requirement is not to check IDs but not to rent to illegal immigrants...)

Landlords require an ID quite independently of any legal requirement because it does not make sense to entrust a real property to someone if you do not know who they are due to the financial liability and the legal procedures required to evict.

In some commercial and legal relations it simply does make sense to assert the identity of the other party.

I feel there are rising tensions in China between their pseudo-free market and their apparent attempts at controlling and micro-managing the lives of their people. It would seem the rise of their consumer economy would also give rise to a demand for more freedom on a day to day basis to allow for innovation. It's interesting to see China going simultaneously in both contradicting directions.

I can't imagine the cognitive dissonance required to go to university in the U.S. for 4 years then return to China after being exposed to uncensored media.

SIM cards bought in Italy have long required showing photo ID in person and also some kind of SSN like number used for various financial transactions.

I needed to acquire that fiscal SSN when buying wine from an Italian web shop but weirdly it's a computed value, not a unique ID you get from some organization: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_fiscal_code

Aside: While there are services that will generate a Codice fiscale that fits the format of what the government will issue, the legal path requires visiting the Agenzia Delle Entrate.

The Codice Fiscale is supposed to be a unique value you get from the State (via the Agenzia delle Entrate), but the whole system is so outdated and badly designed that most websites just check that the inserted code corresponds to the data you inserted.

SIM cards bought in Spain require you to show your ID card, which means the authorities can link such SIM to your name, your face, and your fingerprints.

It's very common around the world in general. That doesn't make it right, of course - it just means that the surveillance state is more widespread than commonly assumed.

China's decisions are easy to understand if you grok the underlying motives. HN should know better than most how things become more difficult at scale. Governance at China's scale is a different beast. Clearly the way the CCP is tackling it is by prioritizing efficiency and the good of the whole, over individuals and personal liberties. If you want to effect change then think about how you might make a case against that philosophy. The west certainly isn't doing a good job right now. Not sure if democracy has ever looked worse than it does today.

I feel it's important to make reference to primary material [0] to bring more attention to CCP goals. It certainly helped me in becoming aware of their actions as another major state actor.

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Document_Number_Nine

Traveling to Germany I had to provide my passport to get a SIM card. When I was going through customs stateside I had a photo taken with my passport. Not sure if this is the new standard but other countries are implementing the same laws/procedures and while I disagree with china we shouldn't hold them to a different standard than other nations.

There are countries where getting a SIM card always required an ID or passport.

I'm confused about the enforcement here. I just bought a temporary sim from https://www.3gsolutions.com.cn (which I've used multiple times before when visiting) and didn't provide any id.

That isn’t really unusual for china. Often times, they just introduce a law without any plan on enforcement, and everyone just ignores it until they can’t anymore. It really isn’t a problem as China isn’t a rule of law country, everyone is used to this.

The SIM you bought was almost certainly registered by an employee of the company. Unless you do something that makes the authorities want to find the person behind your phone number, it's unlikely they'll get in trouble.

Wow, that’s brazen. Explains how I was able to top up my WeChat wallet through PayPal once before a visit, though.

Does this affect foreigners? If I have a AT&T plan, it should work out-of-box in China via roaming? Hope that is the case...

Always roam when in China for short trips. The way cellular networks work is that roaming plans tend to route back home, so that your access is unfiltered.

The plan could affect foreigners but it was hard for years already, in that most cellular stores require a Chinese ID to register monthly service (not all take passports). I used to get the salesperson or security guard to lend their ID in my stead, and this is exactly what this policy seems designed to prevent. Hotels and train stations have operated under facial authentication for a couple of years too for Chinese nationals. This seems to be along the same vein, to ensure the person is who the ID says they are. In other words, it's handing over the ID-checking from a person to an awkward police-sanctioned box.

It is pretty slow though. The most comfortable thing I've found is buying a China Unicom or China Mobile SIM card in Hong Kong which lets you access full speed, uncensored internet in mainland China.

The China Mobile stands in the airport that sell SIMs take passports...you’ll find them in international baggage claim, and also in the terminal.

I’ve only successfully roamed with T-mobile on WiFi. Maybe its better now?

> I’ve only successfully roamed with T-mobile on WiFi. Maybe its better now?

I roamed on T-Mobile pretty successfully using a cell connection last year, but I had to buy a $20 1G data pass and some other passes for it to work. It was worth it for the reliable unfiltered internet access.

My current T-Mobile One plan was worse for this than my old grandfathered (Select Choice?) plan, which could limp along at 2G speeds out of the box and only needed the data pass for usable speed.

Good point, the ones at airports could more readily support passports, as opposed to a street-side authorized (or grey market) shop. More recently I've used Google Fi, which has the benefit of roaming on both Unicom and Mobile depending on signal strength, in addition to full internet access.

Phone plans from outside don’t roam easily in China, and its super cheap to just by a local China mobile SIM, so most people don’t bother. Well, now it might be a bit more difficult, but typically foreigners just need their passports to get one.

When you apply for a visa haven't you already provided a passport with photo and more biographical information on the form?

Verizon TravelPass covers China for $10/day

when I visited 6 months ago, a face scan was required to enter the country, so they're going to get it either way.

for point of comparison: map of European countries that require ID to buy prepaid sim cards[1], worldwide list[2]

[1] https://i.imgur.com/cCFX1wC.jpg

[2] https://prepaid-data-sim-card.fandom.com/wiki/Registration_P...

It's been 10+ years since I signed up for a cell phone. What is required today when you get a new account at the major carriers today in the US?

SSN and hard pull at all postpaid carriers, even if you bring your own phone.

Most major[0] stores I've seen check ID at checkout time before activating a prepaid SIM.

[0] Go to any immigrant-dense area, look for a corner store, and you can probably just top up in cash and ignore this.

I live in China for over 10 years and I don't see the purpose of this.

Remember that this doesn't apply to roaming users or people buying Travel SIM for China, but those people are not a big worry.

To get a SIM card right now in China you need to have valid identification. The only ones that are acceptable are: 1) China Resident Identity Card; or 2) non-Chinese passport. Both of these already have photos.

I searched for the law. They need a photo id for a new phone number to reduce phone scams. I think it is good.

Spammers don't use cell phones to make their calls. Most often they just spoof calls using random peoples phone numbers. This would have no effect on spam calls. (I assume you mean phone-spam when you say phone scam?)

Not to be paranoid, but you really created a HN account just to add this comment?

I’m not the person you asked, but I create throwaway accounts when commenting on sensitive topics so I don’t get harassed irl and since you can’t delete accounts on HN.
EpicEng 6 days ago [flagged]

Oh, look; a brand spanking new HN account backing China on this one! Yes, why would it be bad news for an authoritarian government to strengthen its hold on its people. Those spam calls are so annoying!

BTW, those spammers aren't sitting there on cell phones making calls.

You can't attack a new user like that, regardless of how strongly you disagree with them. Please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and stick to the rules when posting here.

The damage of punishing someone innocent is orders of magnitude greater than the benefit (or pleasure) of scourging villains, so please err on the side of being a welcoming community member. The last thing HN needs is to stew in its own juices with "Keep Out" signs nailed to the clubhouse everywhere.

Fair enough

China has been requiring IDs to buy SIM card for at least 20 years.

Chinese also already have ID cards, 'hukou' (a sort of domestic passport), etc. so I would imagine that the government already has everyone's face on record.

Thus, this seems about enforcing the requirement to provide ID when buying a SIM, because enforcement of rules can be problematic in China.

Which reminds me...

They are (obviously?) having problems collecting sales tax. So at one point they are issuing formal receipts as vouchers that eg. restaurants had to buy form the tax office. A sort of advance payment. When a customer asked for a receipt the restaurant gave them a number of these vouchers.

The smart idea is that they had turned these vouchers into scratch cards to encourage people to request a receipt...

In South Africa we have had to abide by FICA act for many years already, months of bank statements, identity document, proof of address etc., there has already been abuses of this information to identify corruption leaks to reporters...

At first I got the impression a photo was required when buying a new cellphone, but this appears to be just for new numbers.

China already requires an ID to get a number, so I don’t see how requiring a photo will help them track people even more? Maybe it gives them an updated photo? However, if you don’t get a new number every few years, then it’s useless.

My own country requires a photo ID to get a number and I’ve been to several other countries that do as well. I guess I’m just used to it now. Similar to how we put our photos on resumes, but my American friends were shocked by that.

Photo's on a resume is still a pretty strange request in America because it factors into possible discrimination.

However identification is required in the US only when starting a contract phone servie (for Credit inquiries). If you don't want your name attached to the phone number it has to be prepaid. Which always made me chuckle considering the two most common people to give us obviously fake names for prepaid phones were drug dealers and police. I've had days working in phone retail where someone came in and started a prepaid line under "John Doe" and paid for it out of a roll of 100's in their sock. Then an hour later I've got an officer in uniform handing me a name and address he needs put on a cheap burner prepaid phone.

> China already requires an ID to get a number, so I don’t see how requiring a photo will help them track people even more?

If the photo taken to get the number doesn't match the photo on file for the ID, they can now blame the seller. That creates an incentive for the seller to actually check the ID.

Are we any different? I want to think so but drivers licenses and passports are scanned photos. The California DMV even sells this information.

Just look up videos on youtube of westerners who live in China so that you can easily understand the giant chasm of difference between the cultures and system. Even if CA does something similar, there are ways to keep your privacy protected, especially if you're willing to go out of your way and get a lawyer. In China you're basically owned by the government and good luck trying to find workarounds without feeling like you're a wanted criminal.

> especially if you're willing to go out of your way and get a lawyer.

That is out of reach for the vast majority of Americans

All cellphone users in India also have their biometrics (Aadhar) linked to their phone numbers..

This has been a requirement for a while now..

I am not going to defend it nor denounce it.

Having reread Oath of Fealty recently I am really of the belief it won't be long before we end up with heavily monitored enclaves simply out of a desire of many to not put one thought into their own safety and security if surrounded by like minded individuals who all give up privacy in order to guarantee the safety and security of the group.

All the photo apps today that are associated with youth involve many many pictures of themselves they tag with identifiable information so it is not a big leap to think that this level of privacy is not something they consider a big deal. To them their image is their identity and they want to be recognized. Privacy would only mean protecting what they chose not to make public.

There certainly is this odd occurrence where we have many denouncing loss of privacy who at the same time ask the government to do more for them which requires giving up more information to more groups. It really comes down to, which items of your identity are public and private. your image certainly is public and why would you in any sane society be afraid of that association?

I already wrote about this in the past and assumed it was the case in the USA. Hard to get a burner phone in person these days. As long as our infrastructure is run by centralized or federated organizations, this is what will be the case.

I suggested sending in homeless people to get the phone if it’s a prepaid one.

But more to the point, if you want anonymity in such a regime, you have to commandeer other people’s accounts and hope they don’t get in trouble. This is what botnets do, etc. But you may be able to use payphones or libraries or hotel phones etc. as long as you cover your face, fake your gait etc. and even that may not be enough when we are talking about heartbeat signatures, infrared signatures and so on.

Timing attacks, style of writing analysis etc. can also be used to easily out someone these days. Anonymity is quite fragile.

Read more about the mechanics here... it goes back to the Digital Imprimatur of 2003 which started it all for me


Interesting, slightly credible claim they got caught jaywalking through facial recognition and had their account automatically deducted with a fine.

They are unsure how -


Registering a sim card in Vietnam also requires your photo to be taken. Is this an Asia thing ?

Kazakhstan implemented identification for SIM cards few years ago, just ID, no photo. Also recently it implemented identification for IMEI numbers as well. I'm not sure why, apparently they want to fight phone stealing, but I'm not very convinced.

When I bought a prepaid SIM card in Germany a few years ago they took a photocopy if my passport is not quite.

Interestingly, there is another post about a tangential topic about privacy and data collection. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21684708

In Germany you can't have a SIM card without registration (address, ID and everything).

Getting a SIM card in Taiwan also requires a photo taken at the computer (for foreigners) in addition to passport. In HK, you can buy sim for roaming use in mainland and Taiwan without any form of registration.

This doesn't seem much different from Spain, where I need to scan my passport to buy a SIM, and they already have my face on record?

In Brazil, was taken a face picture when lost a phone and had to get a new SIM card, no change in number or contract.

When a nation is a superpower, it is able to influence the behavior of weaker states. It will exert its influence for a variety of reasons, but it is inevitable that with power comes the exertion of influence.

China will use its power to prop up autocratic regimes across the world and export its technology and methods to make such autocracy possible and sustainable.

China represents a threat to global democracy which must be recognized and must be treated as such.

Without agreeing or disagreeing with them, we should accept that people have said exactly the same things about the USA, about the Soviet Union, about Russia, about Britain... And on and on.

I am not trying to play “whatabout,” but I do ask: Is there anything different about China’s behaviour as a superpower? Or are we just seeing a shift in which superpowers have world influence?

At the moment I write this, the front page of HN has an article about China and facial recognition... But also an article about US schools monitoring student emails.

Which seems to me like training a generation of citizens to understand that they live in a prison without walls.

I think comparisons like this ignore something fundamental, which is the values that both countries champion.

The USA is a democracy and has by and large championed democracy around the world. China is ruled by a 1974 style dictatorship, a country ruled by a single Party not the rule of law.

Comparisons between the US and the CCP conveniently ignore this, yet it is what really matters.

Law enforcement will always exist in a nation of laws, yet the simple fact that law enforcement exists both in a dictatorship and in a democracy does not lead us to conclude democracy and dictatorship exist on an equal moral footing.

The underlying values matter.

It took the US over 200 years to fully embrace its values. It’ll take time for opposing groups inside China to change it.

Remember that Xi was sent to a re-education camp in his youth and was initially considered to be an average politician. If he was able to rise to power, there’s no telling what changes can happen in the decades to come.

Are you referring to the cultural revolution? That is not a re-education camp. Although you were out in the middle of nowhere for an extended period, you could freely talk with others (many groups still meet up to today, and/or married somebody there). That was more like an exile not a prison with forced agenda.

If you look at China's constitution they value the same stuff as the United States. They are a democracy by their values, just like the U.S.

Words are meaningless if not backed up by action.

Interesting! As I was completely unfamiliar with China's constitution, I pulled up the Wikipedia article and the source document. Supporting your point, here is a particularly surprising (to me) article:

> Article 35. Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration. [0]

Also, from the introduction section of the Wikipedia article:

> Though technically the "supreme legal authority" and "fundamental law of the state", the ruling Chinese Communist Party has a documented history of violating many of the constitution's provisions and censoring calls for greater adherence to it. Furthermore, claims of violations of constitutional rights cannot be used in Chinese courts, and the National People's Congress Constitution and Law Committee, the legislative committee responsible for constitutional review, has never ruled a law or regulation unconstitutional. [1]

[0] http://en.people.cn/constitution/constitution.html [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_of_the_People%27s...

The Constitution of China changes every few years. There’s no enforcement or practical meaning at all

> If you look at China's constitution they value the same stuff as the United States. They are a democracy by their values, just like the U.S.

> Words are meaningless if not backed up by action.

Exactly: the PRC's constitution forbids gender discrimination, but even government job postings will frequently ask for men only. That shows how significant the words are, in this case.

> has by and large championed democracy around the world.

Have we though? As far as I can tell we've only done that to our enemies. Our "allies" such as Saudi Arabia receive no such "championing".

From other people's point of view, democracy might as well be weaponized regime change.

> The USA is a democracy and has by and large championed democracy around the world.

Citation needed.

The counter-argument is that USA has subverted democracies in its sphere of influence and backed harsh, authoritarian regimes when it suited its interests, just like all other Superpowers to date.

It’s not even clear that the US champions democracies within its own borders these days, what with all the gerrymandering, voter suppression, laws prohibiting “felons” or prisoners from voting, the electoral college, and so on.

Was 2016 a democratic election? America seems divided on whether there was interference from Russia, and if so, whether America condemns it or actually supports it.

After all, your current President actually asked Russia to find dirt on his opponent during the election in a “HaHaOnlySerious” way, and the country now seems divided on whether he exerted pressure on the Ukraine to subvert American democracy, and if he did, whether that is a bad thing or not.

I’m not saying that the USA is a harsh authoritarian state in 2019, but please understand that once you leave the echo chamber of people chanting “USA! USA!,’ it isn’t always crystal clear to the rest of the world that America walks its talk.

A lot of the aspects of American law that are viewed as non-democratic were put in place specifically because of the balance between the power of the central US government vs. the governments of the individual member states.

Something most Americans, let alone non-Americans, don't understand is that the Federal government was a creation of the member states, not vice versa. Perhaps the best example of this aspect driving what currently appears to be non-democratic traits is the composition of the US Senate.

Every single member state, no matter how big or large its population, gets 2 senators. Most American voters (it happens to be left of center voters right now, but if it favored left-wing candidates, right of center voters would flip out) feel like this is unfair, and question why it was put in place.

The reasons hearken back to the creation of the Federal government. The individual states that had to cede their own power for a federal government refused to join the union unless the Senate was created, with equal representation for all member states, regardless of population. Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and other states which are now ironically all left leaning politically, were concerned that the states with large populations, such as Virginia and Pennsylvania, would obliterate the concerns of their citizens in a purely democratic system. Hence the Senate, and as a side-effect, the electoral college system. Think of them as a geographic weighting, where each member state's power by population is limited or expanded to create a more balanced power structure.

Regarding the "USA has subverted democracies in its sphere of influence", while this has been true with certain nations (Shah in Iran, Saudi, Guatamala, etc) it has also not been the case with others, such as all of Western Europe post WW2. Nations liberated by the Soviets weren't actually allowed to dictate their own futures, unlike those liberated by the US.

US schools is about certain school districts, not national policies.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Letter from Birmingham Jail.


You miss the point of the comment. Comparing the CCP federal structure to a local school district is a laughably inappropriate comparison.

>Is there anything different about China’s behaviour as a superpower?

Yes! When Britain was colonizing the world it was not nearly universally agreed upon that colonialism was bad. Ditto for the USSR and US. China is trying to export a system of values that pretty much the entire developed world knows (and has plenty of examples to cite, some of them recent and close to home) lead to mass oppression and suffering.

It's probably going to supply the tech if Nigeria's social media bill passes - Death penalty for 'Hate Speech' on social media.

I can think of another superpower that’s been propping up “democratic” regimes across the world, not hypothetically, but for decades.

(Apparently dang won’t like this comment, and rightly so, so this will be my last comment on this thread.)

America has been a champion for real democracies across the world for decades. It has propped up autocracies in the past, but those pale in comparison to its global support for democracy.

America has also disposed of plenty of democratically-elected regimes (Panama, Iran, Chile, Guatemala, Brazil, etc.). I’m not sure who gets to determine if that ”pales in comparison” to its support of other democracies, but it did happen.

Sure it did, and it's a shame to the US that it happened.

But the US did also prop up democratic regimes. Now, in contrast, China and Russia... did they ever help democracy, anywhere?

Not just propping up autocratic regimes, but they also infiltrate democratic countries by providing funding/support to naive and/or corrupted politicians in the West.

I am hoping that the EU can devise a plan to fight China ever-increasing threats to democracy AND re-introduce manufacturing as a strong industry in all of the Union. It's obvious that individual European counties simply cannot withstand China on their own.

The EU is too slow to react, lots of disagreement, lots of debating.

Just saying, historically Han ethnicity is pretty bad at expansion and exert influence overseas otherwise WWIII would happen many years ago. Of course no one knows if that’ll change as China rises in modern age

They will fail, but not without lots of damage to the world and themselves. All thanks to Xi Jinping's expansionist ambition.

Why will they fail? So far they’ve been executing pretty well for the past 20-30 years...

Past 20-30 years as you said. Past performance is not a guarantee of future success. They don't have the same officials now as they did for the past few decades. Check out who the current ruler is and its background. This guy is a hardcore dictator who doesn't want to listen to any idea beside his own. And he's only got an elementary education. That's a recipe for failure.

From Wikipedia:

> From 1975 to 1979, Xi studied chemical engineering at Beijing's Tsinghua University as a "Worker-Peasant-Soldier student". The engineering majors there spent about 15 percent of their time studying Marxism–Leninism–Mao Zedong thought and 5 percent of their time doing farm work and "learning from the People's Liberation Army".

So, university education in chemical engineering, with 20% political content. Still, not "only an elementary education".

It was a “recommendation” based system at the end of cultural revolution and Xi was mostly been assigned to study there without any qualifications. basically the university has stopped accepting students for 10 years at that time. The Chinese version of the wiki has detailed explanation of what “worker peasant solider” student was. Anyway I doubt he was able to learn anything given his education background.

I have to agree with you. All leaders before him are pretty well educated for their time being.

Canadian here: Ezra Levant is far, far right. He was part of the now defunct Sun news Network. This may be a case of a broken clock being right twice a day.

He's basically the Canadian version of Breitbart.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21685294 and marked it off-topic.


Ah too bad. As a European I have never heard of him, and the original source wasn’t linked. Thanks for the heads up.

Update: changed link

I've had past accounts shadow banned for what I assume is posting in threads like this.

If you want to mention specific links we can take a look at what happened there. Without links, though, a comment like this doesn't add much information.

We detached this comment from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21685327.

When I was younger I wanted to visit China. Currently I have no plans to ever do so, China is a scary country.

Ok, but please don't post unsubstantive comments to HN, and definitely not nationalistic flamebait.


I think that’s quite extreme, but ok. Would you feel better if I bullet pointed a list of reasons I feel it’s scary? Or is that also unsubstantive because it’s about a country?

I think 'nationalistic flamebait' should be better defined; as time goes on it feels as if any negative comment about any world power is being pigeon-holed into that category, and I think that's incorrect.

It's important to talk about the worlds' woes. Shining light onto issues is how they're resolved.

This thread's topic is about yet another step to reduce anonymity in China. This trend of full-disclosure with regards to any kind of society move ( getting a cell phone, paying a bill, boarding a bus, etc ) IS scary, regardless of the country that employs it.

Lots of countries, not excluding China, have terrible human rights violations that need to be talked about. These kind of issues do make the place a scary proposition to visit for foreigners and tourists -- and furthermore I share the commenters opinion; as a younger person I wanted to travel around China, as an older person who has witnessed recent events, I no longer want to. It's not flamebait, and it's relevant to the thread; these kind of societal decisions sway tourists like myself away from your coutry, regardless of which country it may be.

Can't we reserve 'nationalistic flamebait' for the really ludicrous and racist comments that float around the nation-based threads, rather than the useless anecdotes?

I think you've picked a bad example to make this argument about. "China is a scary country" is an unsubstantive negative statement about an entire country. It isn't nuanced. It's not qualified in any way. That easily falls under whatever moderation rule we might apply.

People often seem to think they're making nuanced factual statements when they're actually making blanket emotional ones. Those have degrading effects on discussion here when they're about entire nations, entire classes of people, and so on—and they're easy to avoid if one chooses to.

Part of the issue is that HN threads feel like intimate conversation—which is wonderful and something we consciously cultivate. But it's all fully in public and the audience is large and highly international. Because that gap isn't obvious, it leads people to say things which might be inconsequential in a small group, but are just the opposite here.

It only takes a little objectivity and/or empathy to get what it must feel like to come to HN and encounter putdowns of one's country or one's demographic. That's not cool, and fortunately it's not necessary, so commenters here are responsible for clearly disambiguating their comments from that.

You are really insulting. If you want to remove my comment, remove my comment. Don’t sit there and make up crap about it. Please tell me how it’s an emotional statement and not purely objective unless you wanna hide your head in the sand from the horrific things China has done and is continuing to do.

Edit: seems you can't even follow your own rules, both for insulting me and "Don't feed egregious comments by replying; flag them instead. If you flag, please don't also comment that you did." So is my comment egregious and shouldn't be replied to, or is it fine??

There is a saying like this: if you want to see Tang dynasty, you go to Japan. Sung Dynasty you go to South Korea.

You're not the first person recently to express such. Have you considered "the other China"; Taiwan? It has much of what you might have hoped to find in PRC (depending on what you were hoping to find there), and perhaps lacks some of what you might not like.


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21685294 and marked it off-topic.

Do you have a link to the original?


We detached this comment from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21685327 and marked it off-topic.

I had to provide a passport to purchase a throwaway T-Mobile data SIM in Germany. Seems normal to me.

The irony is that the people complaining about this are the same ones who are gleefully sharing their personal details and narrative on social media, and Facebook in particular. The only difference between mass surveillance in the US and China is that 99% of the US population happily opts in or doesn't care.

I don't disagree with you, but government compulsion makes this a different animal entirely.

The bigger context is that in the US, there is SUPPOSED to be a system in which companies can successfully resist government demands (remember that Apple did this to the FBI when they wanted to crack a criminal's phone passcode), whereas in China, that cannot happen. So yes, people give away their data for stupid conveniences, but Facebook/Google etc aren't supposed to share the data with the government. They have done so, as Snowden revealed, so this is by no means a perfect system.

What really upsets me about China's system is the bigger system of social credit this ties into. You can't get on flights want your score gets too low. The guy exposing fake martial arts masters isn't allowed to leave the country.

There is much less "government compulsion" in the US, but in its place is still de facto compulsion. In general, comparisons with the US are difficult because in the US large corporations are given the power of defining much of societal policy.

Saying that "Facebook/Google etc aren't supposed to share the data with the government" only makes sense in some abstract sense of it wasn't supposed to be like this. But power tends to coalesce - the only "supposed to" is in some abstract moral stewardship sense, a responsibility that has been long forgotten by the business community, if it ever existed in the first place. Facebook/Google want to agglomerate data from the financial surveillance bureaus, and the (nominal) government buys the proceeds from both of them in a "free market" transaction. And then on the output/control side, companies use these surveillance databases to weed out "undesirable" customers, with their competitors following in lock step lest they end up with even more undesirables.

> So yes, people give away their data for stupid conveniences, but Facebook/Google etc aren't supposed to share the data with the government. They have done so, as Snowden revealed, so this is by no means a perfect system.

Can you elaborate on what you mean by "aren't supposed to"? The phrase sounds like there's a law prohibiting them from giving data to the government. But AFAIK the third party doctrine says you have no expectation of privacy for data that you hand over to third parties, so they're free to hand over data to the government. The only reason they don't is because of possible blowback from customers.

But the US population does opt in, at least to the degree that ignoring social pressure allows someone to say no.

Of course its difficult to go around "off the grid"; most of these services became big precisely because they make aspects of life easier -- ergo not using them means life is more difficult. But it is feasible to refuse adding data to them without actively violating the law, which is the point of concern.

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