Facial recognition at Macau ATMs goes live in bid to stem capital flight

Technology in use at more than half of city’s cash machines

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 July, 2017, 9:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 July, 2017, 9:45am

A cash-point capital flight ­crackdown in Macau is off to a ­flying start with more than half of the casino hub’s ATMs already operating with facial recognition technology.

Finance chiefs in the former Portuguese enclave announced that 680 of the 1,300 ATM ­machines in the city were now equipped with what monetary and banking chiefs described as “Know Your Customer” technology, which they unveiled in May. The technology has been compared to measures depicted in the 2002 futuristic film Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise.

Macau to launch facial recognition and identity card checks for ATMs after withdrawals surpass HK$10 billion a month

The new cash dispensers are to scan millions of bank card users at ATMs across Macau in an unprecedented move by mainland authorities to tackle money laundering and capital flight – the rapid flow of money out of the country in contravention of strict currency controls. The scanning only applies to holders of China UnionPay cards issued on the mainland.

A statement from the office of Macau’s Secretary for Economy and Finance, Lionel Leong Vai-tac, issued at the weekend, said: “As of June 26, 680 ATM machines were equipped with this technology and went live. Holders of ­UnionPay bank cards issued by banks in the interior of the country, before collecting money from them, need to verify their identity through facial recognition.” It added that the verification did not apply to holders of cards “issued in Macau and in other regions”.

The move came after the Post reported that withdrawals from Macau’s cash-dispensing ­machines had surpassed HK$10 billion per month and that special measures would be introduced to ensure ATMs never run out of bank notes.

It also followed a shake-up of the regulatory and enforcement systems of both Hong Kong and Macau to boost the battle against money laundering, financial crime, and the funding of terrorist groups.

The speedy introduction of the technology in Macau could give rise to a similar move in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority has already confirmed it is “looking at” a range of measures to tighten and secure the integrity of the city’s financial institutions as Beijing’s crackdown on money laundering and capital flight presses on.

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The new ATMs represent the first widespread consumer application of facial-recognition security programmes in the country, where privacy concerns are not debated as vigorously as in the United States or Europe. Government censors scrub the internet of content they deem harmful to the public or to the authority of the Communist Party, and Chinese consumers regularly hand over personal information relating to mobile payment, e-commerce and food-delivery apps.

Mainlanders make up the vast majority of visitors to Macau. Out of a total of 30 million visitors last year, 20 million were from the mainland – mainly from neighbouring Guangdong province.