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Lao Dongyan

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Láo Dōngyàn 劳东燕

Professor Lao Dongyan (ThePaper.cn)

Lao Dongyan (born. 1974) is a professor of law at Tsinghua University. She is one of the lone voices cautioning against the mass deployment of facial recognition technology in China.

Before becoming a faculty member at Tsinghua University, Lao obtained her PhD in law from Peking University in 2004. She also did research in Germany, the United States, and Japan. Lao specializes in criminal law.

In recent years, Lao became a leading figure opposing the commercialization of facial recognition technology, calling for more oversight.Lao said in an interview that she began noticing the quick spread of facial recognition in 2019, when the coffee machine in her school “started to offer discount and incentivize people to pay with facial data.” In a widely-shared essay, Lao opposed a Beijing subway system’s proposal to use facial recognition in security checks. She wrote:

We should know that in our society, any personal data controlled by a company or other organizations is equivalent to being controlled by the government.


[...] All personal data, including highly identifiable biometrics data, is controlled by a minority of the society. How much of our personal data do these people have? Why do they want it? What are they using it for? These matters send chills down my spine.


The people who control the data are obviously not gods. They have their own selfish desires and weaknesses. So, there’s no way to know how they are going to use our personal data and control our lives. Not to mention that these data might be mismanaged and leaked out, or be intruded by hackers [...]

In 2020, she led a group of homeowners to oppose the mandatory use of facial recognition at the entrance of their gated community. She also criticized Chinese government’s initial response to the COVID-19 outbreak, calling for respect of the freedom of speech. She also cautioned against the normalization of facial recognition and the Health Code.

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