Couples in Xian, China will soon be able to register their marriages with face scans

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Making your marriage official with just a scan of your face may sound a little far-fetched, but in a few months Xian, the capital city of China’s central Shaanxi province.

By the end of September, all marriage registries in the city will have automated, AI-powered terminals where couples can obtain their marriage certificates by scanning their faces or identification cards, local newspaper Hua Shang Daily reported on Thursday.

With the introduction of the system, the entire process of registering a marriage can be carried out electronically, which authorities expect to increase efficiency and reduce errors from filling out paperwork, according to the report.

A digital version of the marriage certificate will be recorded in the system as proof of the marriage’s legitimacy, the report added.

The move also supports efforts to reduce human-to-human contact and prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the report by Hua Shang Daily cited Li Pingwei, director of the Xian Civil Affairs Bureau, as saying.

Xian is not the first Chinese city to experiment with using AI to process marriage applications – Chengdu in Sichuan province rolled out a trial for a similar system to register 2,500 couples last year, according to Chinese news outlets.

The system has been able to identify users consistently against a public security database, even with some wearing make-up or having undergone minor plastic surgery procedures, according to the reports.

The digitalisation of the marriage registration process is part of an ongoing push by local authorities to move offline services online, which has been accelerated amid measures to reduce human contact during the coronavirus outbreak.

In April, authorities in the southern province of Hainan introduced facial recognition-enabled automated terminals that allow citizens to carry out a range of government-related procedures – including getting a temporary ID card and paying for traffic tickets – without having to queue for a person to assist them.

Facial recognition has played a particularly big role in China’s digitalisation strategy, and is used for everything from identifying and shaming jaywalkers to stopping toilet paper theft.

The world’s second-largest economy is expected to dominate the global facial recognition technology market with a market share of nearly 45 per cent by 2023, according to projections by Gen Market Insights.

However, the widespread use of facial recognition in daily life has also drawn concern about data privacy and security, with nearly 80 per cent of people in China saying they were worried about leaks of their facial data, according to a survey by the Nandu Personal Information Protection Research Centre late last year.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.