Explore How China Is Reversing the Vision of IT As A “Great Democratizer, Bringing People More Freedom and Connecting Them to The World”
China has the largest video surveillance in the world and is projected to expand to 600 million cameras by 2021, according to the wall Street Journal. China is on the verge of building a high-tech authoritarian future for its 1.4 billion citizens. China has embraced technologies such as artificial intelligence and facial recognition to identify and track its citizens everywhere. China has reversed the original concept of digitalization from bringing people together to the concept of control. Few protections are limiting the amount of data the government can collect on its citizens. Every citizen aged 16 and above is obligated to have an official state-issued identity card (ID) that the government wants to centralize all the information collected regarding an individual.
China has thus leveraged its booming technology industry by investing in technology start-ups to transform government data into a virtually omniscient surveillance network. Everything happening in public can be recorded, and the police can capture every corner of each city in real-time. Chinese tech companies are now cutting edge in developing new and sophisticated surveillance systems tested on the citizens. The IDs are loaded with personal data used to track people’s movements in real-time. Chinese residents also have different levels of freedom based on ethnicity and religious practices. For example, the Uighur Muslims minority has been the target of mass surveillance, which tracks members’ movements and behaviors, thus classifying them as either safe, regular, or unsafe (Roth & Maya). Goods that the government considers dangerous such as knives are tightly controlled by using identity cards to buy the items. In addition, recognition systems are used to match people with their identity cards from shopping malls to gas stations, an indication of the vastness of the surveillance program.
How Does the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) Leverage the Panopticon To “Control the Cultural Narrative”?
Panopticon is the idea that people will follow laws as they have no clue whether or not they are being watched. The Chinese Communist Party is leveraging the panopticon strategy to manage society and improve citizens’ morals and values, albeit in a way that undermines personal space. China’s massive surveillance system is equipped with facial recognition cameras that constantly monitor Chinese streets for people breaking the law. China has succeeded in persuading its citizens of the extensiveness of the surveillance program such that people conform to the rules accurately.
Chinese authorities regularly state and demonstrate the vastness of the surveillance network to keep the public in line. For example, the intersection south of Changhong Bridge in Xiangyang where cars drove fast and jaywalking was the norm. Chinese authorities put up facial recognition cameras and billboard-size displays showing the faces of jaywalkers and their IDs (Mozur). This public naming and shaming were a form of punishment that brought embarrassment to the person. In addition, there have been numerous instances where criminals were apprehended based on the surveillance program leading to more uncertainty regarding its extensiveness.
This perception that your every move was being monitored led to a decrease in jaywalking at the Xiangyang intersection. Experts believe that the creation of a nationwide surveillance network is still a work in progress since the Chinese authorities have flagged over 20 million citizens, a number which facial recognition cannot parse. However, the effectiveness of surveillance technology does not rely on it working; rather, it depends on the public’s perception regarding the system. The CCP has indoctrinated the Chinese public to follow the rules since they do not know if they are being monitored; thus, the uncertainty leads to total obedience.
Mozur, Paul. “Inside China’s Dystopian Dreams: AI, Shame and Lots of Cameras.” The New York Times, 8 July 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/07/08/business/china-surveillance-technology.html
Roth, Kenneth, and Maya wang. “Data Leviathan: China’s Burgeoning Surveillance State.” Human Rights Watch, 16 Aug. 2019, www.hrw.org/news/2019/08/16/data-leviathan-chinas-burgeoning-surveillance-state