China Gathers People’s Voices for New Identification Technology, Drawing Concerns of Surveillance
China has developed a new voice recognition system, connecting speakers’ voice features to their ID information for the purpose of building a database of “voiceprints.”
The system will be used for authentication of people’s identities on the internet, as well as in the areas of financial services, transportation, medical treatment, education, and tourism, according to the Chinese regime’s state-run news agency Xinhua.
The report said the system is already in use in Gui’an New District, Guizhou Province. The Guizhou authorities, a research institute within Tsinghua University, and the Beijing-based tech firm d-Ear Technologies jointly collaborated on the cloud technology.
Voice recognition works by analyzing characteristics in the speaker’s voice to identify the speaker. Chinese authorities have said the technology is useful for authentication when people’s internet identities get stolen or private information gets exposed. According to Xinhua, the technology is more user-friendly than other biometrics technology and acts like a password that one does not need to memorize.
However, some are worried this technology will become another method for the Chinese regime to surveill and monitor the public.
“The Chinese Communist Party has spared no efforts in using advanced scientific and technological means to monitor the people. Whatever new methods are developed, they don’t hesitate to make great effort, invest large sums of money, or even set up specialized agencies [for using new technology],” said rights activist and former television editor in Shaanxi Province, Mao Xiaoming.
China’s great firewall is a prime example. As early as 1998, the Chinese communist regime has developed technology and created whole bureaucratic agencies, such as the Cyberspace Administration, to monitor and censor content on the Chinese internet. According to estimates by Heng He, a commentator on Chinese politics, the Chinese regime has spent between 100 to 600 billion yuan (approximately $15.9 to 95.3 billion) so far on maintaining such censorship.
The Chinese regime has a variety of means to monitor citizens. In addition to voice recognition, there are facial and pupil recognition, gathering of DNA samples—building the world’s largest DNA database—and fingerprint scans.
The facial recognition technology that the regime has boasted of bringing convenience to people is also used to surveil people. Dissident Li Xuewen was arrested last year by two plainclothes police as he was leaving the Guangzhou railway station thanks to security cameras that employed facial recognition technology.
Yang Zhengwei, a human rights activist in Guizhou Province, is concerned the technology can be used to monitor dissidents, petitioners, activists, and religious groups. “Personal safety will not be protected. It would be very easy to expose one’s identity,” he said.
Psychology professor at New York University Yang Ningyuan shared her thoughts about the technology to The Epoch Times in October 2017, when the technology was being developed and drew privacy concerns from rights groups like Human Rights Watch. “It [technology] means if there is monitoring equipment set up, people will not dare to talk casually in certain places. If someone says some sensitive keywords, it can allow the authorities to quickly capture the person and know his identity. Then people’s private space will be greatly reduced.”
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