The VICE Guide to Right Now

In China, Face Scanners Are Deducting Train Fares From Passengers' Bank Accounts

Forgot your train ticket again? Your face has you covered.
March 14, 2019, 9:00am
dongzhimen station beijing
Dongzhimen Station, Beijing. Photograph by Lukas von Rantzau.

This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.

Here's how it work: you're heading towards the ticket barrier in an underground train station, only instead of pushing a ticket into a slot, you stand still as a camera scans your face. Your fair is then deducted from your bank account and voilà, you’re through.

This is the near future Chinese citizens are facing, as their government begins to trial face readers in a subway station of Shenzhen, Futian. There, face scanners are being tested before being potentially rolled out around the country.


According to the South China Morning Post, face scanners will enable the government to more effectively monitor and catch criminals, which will keep other law-abiding citizens safer. This is a creepy claim, of course, but one that's very much in line with China's proclivity for 1984-style mass surveillance.

The nation has already installed a widespread CCTV surveillance network on city streets, while in Shenzen, surveillance cameras are used to deter jaywalkers. These cameras take photos of offenders and displays their faces on large LED screens above intersections. Facial recognition software also allows lawbreakers' names and partial ID numbers to be displayed along with the photos. Similar technology is also being used in a high-school classroom of Hangzhou to ensure students are paying attention.

In Beijing, facial recognition is also being used in more creative ways. After toilet paper began disappearing from the city’s historical tourist attraction, the Temple of Heaven, surveillance technology was employed to force visitors to use less. To release paper from the roll, visitors had to have their photo taken by a machine. And if they wanted more, they had to wait nine minutes before the machine would take their photo again.

Back in Shenzhen, face scanning technology is still only being trialled at a single station. And while there's no announcement about when the system will be ready to implement nationwide, it's likely just a matter of time.

Follow Edoardo on Instagram