According to a recent New York Times report, China is ramping up its security and surveillance system to watch over the public.
“With millions of cameras and billions of lines of code, China is building a high-tech authoritarian future. Beijing is embracing technologies like facial recognition and artificial intelligence to identify and track 1.4 billion people. It wants to assemble a vast and unprecedented national surveillance system, with crucial help from its thriving technology industry,” writes the New York Times.
Police departments in big cities like Zhengzhou are using facial recognition software equipped in glasses to help identify criminals or whoever they want.
Last December, Chinese officials located and apprehended BBC reporter John Sudworth in just seven minutes as a stunt to show how powerful the Chinese surveillance system is.
Is technology being used against China’s citizens?
“China is reversing the commonly held vision of technology as a great democratizer, bringing people more freedom and connecting them to the world. In China, it has brought control,” writes the NYT.
But a police officer with facial recognition software doesn’t even need to be there to spot criminals.
Cameras with facial recognition scanners are all over China’s busiest cities. Currently, there are 200 million surveillance cameras in the country and President Xi Jinping is upgrading China’s surveillance capabilities.
“China has become the world’s biggest market for security and surveillance technology, with analysts estimating the country will have almost 300 million cameras installed by 2020. Chinese buyers will snap up more than three-quarters of all servers designed to scan video footage for faces, predicts IHS Markit, a research firm. China’s police will spend an additional $30 billion in the coming years on techno-enabled snooping, according to one expert quoted in state media,” writes the NYT.
According to research by the IHS Markit, the number of surveillance cameras in China could reach up to 626 million by 2020.
Developing snooping technologies has become a hot market. China’s public security market valued at over $80 billion last year. Multiple Chinese start-ups are currently developing image and voice recognition.
The government also uses the cameras to capture lawbreakers and then shame them.
“The intersection south of Changhong Bridge in the city of Xiangyang used to be a nightmare. Cars drove fast and jaywalkers darted into the street,” writes NYT. “Then last summer, the police put up cameras linked to facial recognition technology and a big, outdoor screen. Photos of lawbreakers were displayed alongside their names and government I.D. numbers. People were initially excited to see their faces on the board, said Guan Yue, a spokeswoman, until propaganda outlets told them it was punishment.”
This has become the new way of governing by the Chinese government.
“Reform and opening has already failed, but no one dares to say it,” said Chinese historian Zhang Lifan to NYT. “The current system has created severe social and economic segregation. So now the rulers use the taxpayers’ money to monitor the taxpayers.”
Author’s note: There are 1.4 billion people in China, so that means there is one camera per seven people. This seems excessive, but the Chinese government is maintaining control with its surveillance network. The more surveillance, the more control.
Editor’s note: This kind of disrespect for individual freedom should give us pause when considering how close we should be to China.