Chinese Surveillance State Is Basically The US Surveillance Apparatus Minus The Constitutional Rights
from the result-of-asking-'why-not?'-rather-than-'why?' dept
Reuters has a long, detailed examination of the Chinese surveillance state. China’s intrusion into the lives of its citizens has never been minimal, but advances in technology have allowed the government to keep tabs on pretty much every aspect of citizens’ lives.
Facial recognition has been deployed at scale and it’s not limited to finding criminals. It’s used to identify regular citizens as they go about their daily lives. This is paired with license plate readers and a wealth of information gathered from online activity to provide the government dozens of data points for every citizen that wanders into the path of its cameras. Other biometric information is gathered and analyzed to help the security and law enforcement agencies better pin down exactly who it is they’re looking at.
China’s high tech surveillance gadgets, sometimes referred to as “black tech”, often make the headlines. They include police glasses with built-in facial recognition, cameras that analyze how people walk, drones and artificially-intelligent robots.
But it goes further than that. The Chinese version of stop-and-frisk involves “patting down” cellphones for illegal content or evidence of illegal activities.
Filip Liu, a 31-year-old software developer from Beijing, was traveling in the far western Chinese region of Xinjiang when he was pulled to one side by police as he got off a bus.
The officers took Liu’s iPhone, hooked it up to a handheld device that looked like a laptop and told him they were “checking his phone for illegal information”.
Liu’s experience in Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital, is not uncommon in a region that has been wracked by separatist violence and a crackdown by security forces.
Hand-held devices allow police to quickly check the content of phones on the street. Liu, the Beijing software developer, said the police were able to review his data on the spot. They apparently didn’t find anything objectionable as he was not detained.
China is home to several companies offering phone cracking services and forensic software. It’s not only Cellebrite and Grayshift, although these two are best known for selling tech to US law enforcement. Not that phone cracking is really a necessity in China. Most citizens hand over passwords when asked, considering the alternative isn’t going to be a detainment while a warrant is sought. The option is far more likely to be something like a trip to a modern dungeon for a little conversational beating.
What’s notable about this isn’t the tech. This tech is everywhere. US law enforcement has access to much of this, minus the full-blown facial recognition and other biometric tracking. (That’s on its way, though.) Plate readers, forensic devices, numerous law enforcement databases, social media tracking software… these are all in use already.
Much of what China has deployed is being done in the name of security. That’s the same justification for the massive surveillance apparatus erected after the 2001 attacks. The framework for a totalitarian state is already in place. The only thing separating us from China is our Constitutional rights. Whenever you hear a US government official lamenting perps walking on technicalities or encryption making it tough to lock criminals up, keep in mind the alternative is China: a full-blown police state stocked to the teeth with surveillance tech.