A Wednesday judicial interpretation released by China’s highest court sets boundaries on how businesses in China can use facial recognition technology. 

Why it matters: The interpretation prohibits businesses from forcing people to accept facial recognition applications on apps to access services. In public spaces, businesses could infringe personal rights if their use of facial recognition violated “related law and regulations,” said the interpretation.  

  • The interpretation directs lower-level courts on facial recognition-related disputes. 

Details: On Wednesday, the Supreme People’s Court, China’s highest court, released a judicial interpretation (in Chinese) to address facial recognition technology issues in civil trials. Businesses have to acquire users’ consent before collecting their facial information. 

  • Businesses could face charges of personal rights infringement if they do not give customers an alternative to face recognition to access public places or online services. However, the rules do not apply to situations regarding public safety, public health emergencies, and other crises, according to the interpretation.
  • Yang Wanming, vice president of the Supreme People’s Court, said at a Wednesday press conference that the interpretation is partly a reaction to the growing phenomenon of Chinese businesses abusing facial recognition tools. Courts have seen rising cases in which companies collect facial information without consent or force customers to accept facial information collection.
  • “Some retailers use ‘touchless’ face recognition technology to collect consumers’ facial information without consent, then push them to different advertising based on their gender, age, and mood,” said Yang. “These acts seriously infringed users’ rights and interests,” he added.
  • The interpretation will take effect on Aug. 1.

Context: The interpretation is one part of a regulatory overhaul on privacy and personal data collection. China is finishing drafting a law on personal information protection. The Data Security Law, passed in June, will take effect in September.

Wei Sheng

Writing about semiconductors and telecommunications.