BEIJING, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) — Con artists and swindlers in China who try to use fake ID will have a tougher time trying to pass themselves off as someone else now that the public has access to the Ministry of Public Security's population database.
Anyone can now send a text message or visit the country's population information center's website, to check if the name and the ID number of a person's identity card match. If they do match the ID cardholder's picture also appears, said the Ministry, adding that no other information is available to ensure a citizen's privacy is protected.
Completed at the end of 2006, China's population information database, the world's largest, contains personal information on 1.3 billion citizens.
Giving public accessing to the database is also designed to correct mistakes if an individual discovers that their name, number and picture don't match.
Millions of dollars are lost each year by people who use false identities. According to the Ministry of Public Security, about 90 percent of people who commit crimes hold fake ID cards.
Now, as noted on Slashdot, this is coming as the Real ID is being debated in congress. I have reservations about proposals for mandating federal ID cards—or DNA databases. But what is interesting about the Chinese approach is the utter transparency of the database they are making open to the public—they are making photos available to anyone who has someone's name and ID number.
I can believe that many Americans who have been victims of identity theft might welcome a chance to voluntarily associate their social security numbers with their photos in a government-maintained database. The issues of how foreigners (visitors, immigrants or temporary workers) are registered and processed is also fundamentally different than what requirements are placed on citizens.
I suspect we are up for a long and painful debate on this whole issue.