If China Is A Glimpse Of Our Future Surveillance Nightmare, Maybe Hong Kong Shows How To Fight It

from the minimize-your-digital-footprint dept

Techdirt has been covering the roll-out of the extraordinarily comprehensive digital surveillance systems in China for many years. It’s hardly news that the Chinese authorities continue to deploy the latest technologies in order to bolster their control. Many of the same approaches to surveillance are being tried in the special administrative region of Hong Kong. A British colony for 156 years, it was handed back to China in 1997 on the understanding that there would be “one country, two systems“: Hong Kong would be part of China, but it would retain its very different economic and administrative systems for at least 50 years.

Well, that was the theory. In practice, Xi Jinping is clearly unwilling to wait that long, and has been asserting more and more control over Hong Kong and its people. In 2014, this provoked the youth-led “Umbrella Movement“, which sought to fight interference by the Chinese authorities in Hong Kong’s political system. More recently, there have been even bigger protests over a planned law that would allow extradition from Hong Kong to China. This time, though, there has been an important development. The protesters know they are increasingly under surveillance online and in the street — and are actively taking counter-measures:

Protesters used only secure digital messaging apps such as Telegram and otherwise went completely analogue in their movements: buying single-ride subway tickets instead of prepaid stored-value cards, forgoing credit cards and mobile payments in favor of cash and taking no selfies or photos of the chaos.

They wore face masks to obscure themselves from CCTV, fearing facial-recognition software, and bought fresh pay-as-you-go SIM cards.

As The Washington Post report explains, in addition to minimizing their digital footprints, the protesters also adopted a decentralized approach to organization. The hope is that without clear leaders, it will be harder to shut down the protests by carrying out just a few targeted arrests. The protests are continuing, so it’s too early to say how well these measures have worked. Moreover, the level of surveillance in Hong Kong has not yet matched what is happening in Tibet or the huge Western region of China inhabited by the Uyghurs. Nonetheless, the conscious attempts to blunt the force of privacy-hostile digital technologies form an important testing ground for approaches that others may soon need to adopt as China-style total surveillance spreads around the world.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

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Comments on “If China Is A Glimpse Of Our Future Surveillance Nightmare, Maybe Hong Kong Shows How To Fight It”

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17 Comments
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Hong Kong better be careful or we may see Winnie the Pooh leading a crackdown."

The crackdown is happening right now. It’s just a question of whether emperor Xi is sending a magistrate (i.e. cops) or a general (Tiananmen square v2) to deal with the insurgency.

But that, i believe, is why the Hong kong citizenry are taking steps to shield themselves against surveillance.
In the end that is, of course, doomed to fail. Beijing will retrieve full dominance over hong kong and make it fall in line one way or the other. It was pretty much guaranteed that the end of the british lease meant the end of independence.

What i really don’t get is how hong kong’s citizens, being of chinese origin, being neighbors to the PRC, speaking both mandarin and cantonese, and having had full access to both chinese and western media are still having any illusions about how the new leadership WILL function.

Once the british lease expired the choice was clear. Leave hong kong, become a full card-carrying member of the PRC. Or eventually be ground to mincemeat under a chinese tank on open camera while resisting.

Protests are a great tool of democracy.
In China? All they’ll do is give the police target practice.

Anonymous Coward says:

The government and private sector want to ban cash because they can’t trace it. In my area, it’s near impossible to get a single use public transport ticket. In many countries, you need to show photo ID and register a SIM card before you can use it.

Yes, it worked for Hong Kong. But many other countries are already past the point of no return for surveillance and if they ever want to mount these kind of protests, they’ll find these choices have already been stripped away. By then, it’s too late.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In my area, it’s near impossible to get a single use public transport ticket.

Prediction: soon, for "convenience", the HK metro will eliminate cash. It’ll all be credit/debit and maybe eventually just WeChat. Visitors to the mainland have reported it being all but necessary to have a WeChat account.

R,og S/ says:

Re: you basically described the US

re:government and private sector want to ban cash because they can’t trace it.

Thats been going on in the US since the 1990s.

And today, with asset forfeiture and a cap of 10k on any/all cash into or out of the US.

Its just silly to imagine that HKs troubles are somehow worse than FIVEYES Nations

Anonymous Coward says:

When citizens become prey

It seems that surveillance is the new norm, to what end? Tracking every move, logging every action.

When will the people become vulnerable to attack? Clearly the herd responded this time, and repelled the attack before it happened, but how long can they keep it up?

Just keep watching, and waiting, and the moment to strike will come.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: When citizens become prey

It doesn’t ever end.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. As there will always be someone who will do anything to take it from you.

As for the increase in surveillance, that’s a failure of the public’s. A free society has no need for this crap. It’s extra "convenience" that is paid for by a huge loss of freedom. As the tech has improved, that price to pay has gotten bigger and bigger. Temptation is what they hope the public will fall for, and they did hook, line, and sinker.

The real question is what the public will do to correct this failure of theirs. They want to say it won’t get any worse, but they are lying and they know it. They just cannot bring themselves to do anything but attempt to save face, and that’s exactly what the powers that be want.

Bruce C. says:

One of the comments highlighted from last week reads:

"The real problem is not that YouTube is too big to fix, but rather that the Human race is too large to moderate."

Since civilization and government are primarily intended to moderate/manage human behavior, the obvious corollary is that human civilization is destined to collapse. So no country is "past the point of no return". The road to freedom may be violent and chaotic and pass through a "dark age", but it exists.

Anonymous Coward says:

It's too late in America

We’ve already seen Credit Card Companies, Social Media sites, Banks, etc., colluding together to shut people down. And Facebook has admitted to banning people from their platforms for things they do off-site.

What do you do when you can’t even access the money in your own account? What do you do when you aren’t allowed to make money because all the payment processors have shut you out?
That’s already happening in America.

What? Going to take them to court? They’re a private business after all. They can do what they want.

Nevermind the fact that we had an entire movement dedicated to telling businesses "hey, you can’t do what you want to us" back in the 1960s. Rosa Parks would be told "Just use another bus" or "It’s a private company, they can do what they want" today.

Anonymous Coward says:

and the ‘5Eyes’ members are a very clear indicator that what is going on in mainland China, is what these countries want to do as well. think about where this started (in our own backyard) and when it started, a long time ago, but was always done covertly, until Snowden, God bless him, let the cat out of the bag! then think about how bad it has gotten, not just since then but certainly under Bush, Obama and definitely under Trump! the laws that are being implemented, simply to spy on ordinary citizens are disgraceful and dont/wont stop any of the things that are used as reasons to bring these laws in!what is happening is that every innocent, law-abiding citizen is losing his/her rights, rights that were for for and gained over hundreds of years, written down so that authorities wouldn’t forget them but it seems that as long as you are the ‘Authority’, nothing stops you from screwing everyone else, just because you can, even if you dont rewrite that which is, almost, cast in stone, written in blood!

R,og S/ says:

Re:tired trope

China this and that….

The US has one security contractor or cop per every 30 citizens, and those cops /security stalk, harrass, and frequently murder any and every activist or dissident that doesnt collaborate with the snitch society.

Worse, the US claims it is a democracy, yet uses the, DHS and "community policing ” to circumvent due process rights.

Then, you have the Million Man Army of Paul Blart the Mall Cop, and all of their little gangs; and NSA /Fusion Centers and Israelis monitoring every internet conversation, lol, then calling cops about lashon hara badwerdz….

Yeah….maybe get off the China Bad bandwagon, and embrace the future of total surveillance, because in the US, citizens arm themselves with cameras BECAUSE cops and community policing agents and agencies are shit.

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