Chinese CCTV Surveillance Defeated By Chinese Smog

from the police-state-problems dept

Techdirt has often written about CCTV surveillance, and its many pitfalls. But according to this story in the South China Morning Post, the provincial capital Harbin, in north-eastern China, has a very particular problem in this regard:

Last month visibility in Harbin dropped to below three metres because of heavy smog. On days like these, no surveillance camera can see through the thick layers of particles, say scientists and engineers.

To the authorities, this is a serious national security concern. Beijing has invested heavily to build up a nationwide surveillance network that lets police watch every major street and corner in main cities.

But with smoggy days becoming more frequent, the effectiveness of the system has been greatly compromised. Some fear terrorists may choose a smoggy day to launch attacks.

It’s hard to believe that terrorists will hang around, checking the local visibility, before deciding to launch their attacks. It’s more likely that the issue here is the local police freaking out when they find they can’t spy on what ordinary citizens get up to. But never fear, the Chinese government is on it:

The National Natural Science Foundation of China funded two teams, one civilian and one military, to study the issue and has told the scientists involved to find solutions within four years.

Here’s the kind of thing they are investigating:

Professor Zhang Li, an image processing expert with the department of electronic engineering of Tsinghua University, said the researchers might have to think out of the box.

“On the smoggiest days, we may need to use radar to ensure security in some sensitive areas,” he said.

Microwaves or electromagnetic waves could travel through smog easily and bounce back if they hit an object. With the help of good software, sharp and clear images could be produced. But a radar camera would also generate radiation that harms people’s health.

Or, alternatively, they could just cut down on the pollution, which would be good for people’s health in other ways.

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Comments on “Chinese CCTV Surveillance Defeated By Chinese Smog”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Facial recognition does work it is not 100% and even below that it has its uses, but as anything else, there are ways around it, you can go Brave Heart and paint your face with forms that confuse it, you can were a mask, you can use intense light(bright infrared) to blind its optical sensors.

Still aside from law enforcement, I can see a need to look at thousands of photos from relatives and use a machine to sort it out for me, you can use the same stuff to use a mini drone and find your lost dog or cat, it is used for quality control, yes I know you will say that it is a facial recognition program, I say it is a topological reconstruction and recognition program, meaning is a program that is used to identify and classify surfaces.

Anonymous Coward says:

Terrorists do attack China

“It’s hard to believe that terrorists will hang around, checking the local visibility, before deciding to launch their attacks.”

Actually, Bin Laden’s terrorists have attacked China multiple times before, just not at a 9/11 type success scale. They hate China as much as they hate the US and Europe.

There was one terrorist attack years ago at a small Chinese town that’s whole economy was growing and selling lots of exotic teas. Four terrorists boarded a bus in the town carrying lots of tea, just like any other visitor. When the bus stopped somewhere the 4 terrorists got off the bus, and the driver noticed they had left their tea in the bus, and shouted at them “you forgot your tea guys”, which caused the terrorists to run away from the bus even faster. A few seconds later all their abandoned bags of tea exploded and killed or seriously injured everyone on the bus.

But that said, yes it’s probably more like China’s dictators want to keep eyes on their ‘citizens’ rather than fear about terrorists here.

Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

Tom Lehrer had a song for when America was like this back in the 1960s

Just replace every mention of America with China and his song starts to sound disturbingly like a mostly factual warning to travelers about China’s health hazards.

More on topic: it sounds like the smog in China has gotten as bad as how people portray the air in late 19th century London. Seriously though, why are they just dancing around the issue instead of, I dunno, dealing with the source of the smog. Shut down the polluting factories! You’re a big government China. I know you’ve got the necessary weight to force those factory owners to change their tu-

…what do you mean, “most of the guilty factories are state-run”?!

Anonymous Coward says:

Some fear terrorists may choose a smoggy day to launch attacks.

With visibility below 3M, driving becomes difficult to impossible, you cannot see the other side of a wide road, or for a pedestrian across most roads. Below 2M walking becomes difficult for all but the blind, the ground keeps disappearing. A bad smog is more likely to cause a terrorist to give up than carry out an attack.

don sumon (user link) says:


The security industry is dominated by what are called Analog Cameras, and depending on the source of the statistics, it is thought that presently somewhere between 70%-90% of all CCTV Surveillance systems deployed are analog. It should be noted that there are no fundamental deficiencies with the analog camera, but depending on your requirements, the new IP range of CCTV Surveillance (see below for explanation) most certainly provide far clearer images, and ones that can be relied upon to actually identify the person, whereas the analog range essentially struggles with this.

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