(TibetanReview.net, Jun27’22) – Keeping the Communist Party of China in authoritarian power under the prevailing leadership faction is the obsessive concern of the government of China and consumes a great deal of its human, technical and financial resources. It is not surprising therefore that the more than 1.4 billion people living in this surveillance state are constantly watched for potential signs of a tiniest bit of trouble and threat to the prevailing order.
A New York Times report Jun 26 has found that China’s ambition to collect a staggering amount of digital and biological data from its citizens is more expansive and invasive than previously known.
The report is based on a more than year-long effort to analyze over 100,000 government bidding documents, which detail the surveillance technology and software and explain the strategic thinking behind the purchases.
The development means that citizens of China are recorded by police cameras that are everywhere, on street corners and subway ceilings, in hotel lobbies and apartment buildings. Their phones are tracked, their purchases are monitored, and their online chats are censored.
Four takeaways from the investigation, and a 14-minute video, have been presented:
Cameras: These are the foundation of China’s surveillance state, feeding data to analytical software that can tell someone’s race, gender and whether they are wearing glasses or masks. All of this data is stored on government servers.
Phones: Authorities use phone trackers to link people’s digital lives to their identity and physical movements.
Profiles: DNA, iris scan samples and voice prints are collected indiscriminately from people with no connection to crime in order to build comprehensive profiles for citizens.
Artificial intelligence: The latest technology promises to predict or detect crimes, such as signaling officers when a person with a history of mental illness gets near a school, or alerting authorities if a marriage is suspicious.
Yes, even the citizens’ future is under surveillance.
The latest generation of technology digs through the vast amounts of data collected on the citizens’ daily activities to find patterns and aberrations, promising to predict crimes or protests before they happen, the report noted.
It takes extensive evasive maneuvers to avoid the digital tripwires, the report noted, presenting the example of Zhang Yuqiao, a 74-year-old man who has been petitioning the government for most of his adult life. He now has to stay off the main highways to dodge authorities while making his way to Beijing to fight for compensation over the torture of his parents during the Cultural Revolution. He turns off his phones, pays in cash and buys multiple train tickets to false destinations, the report said.
The new Chinese technologies, detailed in procurement and other documents reviewed by The New York Times, further extend the boundaries of social and political controls and integrate them ever deeper into people’s lives. At their most basic, they justify suffocating surveillance and violate privacy, while in the extreme they risk automating systemic discrimination and political repression, the report said.
What all this means, especially in the ethnic minority areas, is that the space for dissent, always limited, is rapidly disappearing.
“Big data should be used as an engine to power the innovative development of public security work and a new growth point for nurturing combat capabilities,” President Xi Jinping was quoted as having said in 2019 at a national public security work meeting.
Maya Wang, a senior researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch, has called the situation an invisible cage of technology imposed on society. “The disproportionate brunt of it being felt by groups of people that are already severely discriminated against,” she has added.