China Orders Every Vehicle In Region Troubled By Ethnic Unrest To Be Fitted With Satnav Tracker

from the spy-in-the-sky dept

Techdirt stories on China tend to paint a fairly grim picture of relentless surveillance and censorship, and serve as a warning of what could happen in the West if government powers there are not constrained. But if you want to see how a real dystopian world operates, you need to look at what is happening in the north-western part of China’s huge domain. Xinjiang was originally a turkic-speaking land, but the indigenous Uyghur population is increasingly swamped by Chinese-speaking immigrants, which has caused growing unrest. Violent attacks on the Chinese population in the region have led to a harsh crackdown on the Uyghurs, provoking yet more resentment, and yet more attacks.

Last November, we noted that the Chinese authorities in Xinjiang were describing censorship circumvention tools as “terrorist software.” Now the Guardian reports on an ambitious attempt by the Chinese government to bring in a new kind of surveillance for Xinjiang:

Security officials in China’s violence-stricken north-west have ordered residents to install GPS tracking devices in their vehicles so authorities are able to keep permanent tabs on their movements.

The compulsory measure, which came into force this week and could eventually affect hundreds of thousands of vehicles, is being rolled out in the Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture of Xinjiang, a sprawling region that borders Central Asia and sees regular eruptions of deadly violence.

The rollout is already underway — those who refuse to install the trackers will not be allowed to refuel their vehicles:

Between 20 February and 30 June all private, secondhand and government vehicles as well as heavy vehicles such as bulldozers and lorries will have to comply with the order by installing the China-made Beidou satellite navigation system.

Beidou is the homegrown version of the US Global Positioning System, completely under the control of the Chinese government. According to Wikipedia, the Beidou system has two levels of accuracy:

The free civilian service has a 10-meter location-tracking accuracy, synchronizes clocks with an accuracy of 10 nanoseconds, and measures speeds to within 0.2 m/s. The restricted military service has a location accuracy of 10 centimetres, can be used for communication, and will supply information about the system status to the user.

Being able to track any car in the Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture of Xinjiang to a few inches should be enough even for the paranoid Chinese authorities. The fear has to be that, if successful, this latest form of extreme surveillance may spread to other regions in China, assuming Beidou could cope with such large-scale tracking.

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Comments on “China Orders Every Vehicle In Region Troubled By Ethnic Unrest To Be Fitted With Satnav Tracker”

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43 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

“and serve as a warning of what could happen in the West if government powers there are not constrained.”

Not if, but when. With donny in power it is inevitable – unless the GOP can stop it, but there does not seem to be much interest in doing so. Stay tuned for the continuing saga of whether we will be learning the Goooooose Step. Hey, is that dance trademarked?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Surveillance is the goal, loss of gasoline taxation is the excuse (for forced GPS). Proof of this is found in logic as the odometer is both less expensive and is already in place. For those who claim to be all about financial frugality … this seems a bit off. Bottom line, look past their bs excuses and find the real reason for things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well, the Chinese can simply revert back to what they used to do for transportation …. the bicycle.

Maybe the Chinese government will then not allow tire inflation station use if a tracker is not installed upon said bike.

Hmmm, they probably need trackers in all shoes … awww screw it, just implant the tracker chips in all known terrorists (everybody).

Of what use is a word when it is used to describe everything?

Roger Strong (profile) says:

In the west the tracking capability will be required, but unused by law enforcement except when they get a warrant. (Which would be rubber-stamped in bulk.) The Five Eyes intelligence agencies would have full access with purely hypothetical oversight.

Meanwhile the same data would be sold for profit the way smart TV and cell phone and social media and Visa/debit card usage is now.

The story isn’t what China is doing; it’s their lack of subtlety in doing it.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Using GPS for surveillance strongly implies that your location data will go into a database. There’s little point in doing it if they can’t pull up a history if where you’ve been.

Which means they can pull up a report: “Which vehicles are registered but don’t show up on GPS?” More to the point, “Which vehicles keep disappearing off the grid for a few hours at a time?”

If you want to commit a crime, try to find one that doesn’t send an electronic record to police every time you commit it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Another problem with requiring gas pumps to be hooked up is that if it goes off when they key is turned off, the GPS tracker will go off when the key goes off, meaning the pump cannot communicate with it, so that would not work.

All gas stations want you to have the key turned off when pumping gas for fire safety reasons.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Of course, gas station owners, in the USA, could simply not modify their pumps to only pump gas to cars to the tracking devices, and then only accept cash, no checks or credit/debit cards, so that the car owner who disabled their GPS device would not have any money trail leading back to said car owner.

One gas station in Nevada does not take cards, and you have to go inside, get money from the ATM, and then tell them how much gas you want to buy.

Those are the kinds of gas stations to use if they bring this to the USA.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: In the West

You could get a car where you could replace the infotainment system with a different stereo. Just make sure to buy a car where you can do that.

You cannot do that with most BMW, Ford, Chrysler, or GM models, but you can still do it with some Toyota models.

Once you put your own stereo in there, you will not have the car’s factory stereo tracking you anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

There is an easy way anyone could defeat a GPS tracker in their car, that nobody would ever suspect, becuase it does not involve jamming.

Since it would need to go on when the car goes on and off when the car goes off, it would be wired through the accessory circuit, the same circuit that the radio uses.

All someone would have to do is pull the fuse for that circuit, and the GPS tracker will cease to work, and it will appear to be a malunction to those monitoring the device, You would not be able to listen to the radio in your car, byt the GPS tracker would be borked, becuase it would have no power. To the auhorities, it would appear to be a malfunction.

This is very likely why GPS-based road tolling has not really taken off yet in a lot of places. If someone pulls the accessory fuse, the GPS tracker quits working, and they cannot charge you any tolls.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Then they come to see why your car isn’t showing, find the fuse pulled, and you go straight to jail. Your idea won’t work.

No, a better idea would be to reverse the power leads and short something out. Then they’d actually find a malfunction. Of course, if your system malfunctions too many times, they’ll probably arrest you for deliberate sabotage, so you’d only be able to pull this once or twice.

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