Privacy

by Glyn Moody


Filed Under:
china, gps, privacy, satnav, tracking, uyghurs, xinjiang



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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  • identicon
    RR, 27 Feb 2017 @ 3:28am

    We'll get it too

    Pretty sure our self driving cars will already do this for us.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 4:26am

    Like most, if not all bulk surveillance efforts, this will likely only speed up the determining of what happened after the event. It is also easily used to mislead the authorities, as just because your car is hundreds of miles away from en event, it does not mean that you were also that distance away.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 4:41am

    "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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      timmaguire42 (profile), 27 Feb 2017 @ 5:22am

      Re:

      You misspelled "Hillary." But that's ok. She lost.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 6:38am

      Re:

      While politicians are holding back on the total car surveillance, there is an increasing pressure for using GPS to pay for roadusage and as a measure to reduce queues on the roads since it is relatively cheap and easy compared to the alternatives...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 6:44am

        Re: Re:

        Well... have you ever met a tax that a politician did not like?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 7:04am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 11:12am

        Re: Re:

        And GPS road tolling can be defeated by pulling the accessory use and cutting power to the device and preventing it from tracking you or charging tolls

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 28 Feb 2017 @ 5:01am

          Re: Re: Re:

          How do you plan on filling that gas tank?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 28 Feb 2017 @ 1:04pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Another option would be to use a GPS jammer to prevent the device from logging your miles, so the device will report less miles than you really drove when you fill up.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 4:52am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 7:06am

      Re:

      Uyghur is a very sparsely populated mountainous desert-filled area. And the only million-city Urumqi is far too polluted today. I doubt bicycles are useful for travel in that area.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 12:08pm

      Re:

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

      If the article's to be believed, "all vehicles" are covered so bicycles would have to be tracked too. It's just harder to enforce.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 4:53am

    In Communist China, car finds you

    I couldn't resist.

    I'll close the door on my way out

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 27 Feb 2017 @ 6:12am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 11:07am

      Re:

      And someone who wants to avoid being tracked, like I said, can pull the acccessory fuse from the fuse panel and shut down GPS tracking

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Roger Strong (profile), 27 Feb 2017 @ 12:28pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 12:55pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          But if the device does not get any power on account of the fuse being pulled, how it is going to send anything to the database.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            JoeCool (profile), 27 Feb 2017 @ 5:20pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            That's the point - it would normally be sending data continuously, so if you pull the power, there's missing data from just that source. They won't know what you were doing, but they'll know you were doing something and come for you.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 7:01pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Another way to do it would be to jam wireless Internet frequencies needed for the device to report where you are.

              Tracking devices need 1x, 2g, 3g, 4g, 5g, Wifi, or Wimax to work. If you can jam those frequencies, the device will not work.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 5:33pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            have fun at the gas pump

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 28 Feb 2017 @ 1:10pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              A gas pump could be hacked to allow gas to be pumped without a tracking device present. If it is wireless, it can be hacked.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 28 Feb 2017 @ 2:05pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 28 Feb 2017 @ 3:20pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 8:49am

    In the West

    This is a presented as a feature, not a bug. Nearly all "infotainment" systems come with telematics and tracking- you're data becomes a product for them to sell. It's even hidden in places you might not expect- like XM radio.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Feb 2017 @ 11:22am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 9:43am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 27 Feb 2017 @ 5:24pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 6:56pm

        Re: Re:

        Another way to do it is to use a jammer that jams frequencies used for wireless Internet. Tracking devices need wireless internet to run, so if you jam its internet connection, it will be unable to report anything.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonmylous, 27 Feb 2017 @ 10:10am

    Upside

    In other news, Google announced this morning they'll be bringing the most accurate version yet of Google Street Maps to the Xinjiang region in about 2 weeks!

    Also Banggood seems to have a whole bunch of these same devices available for sale today...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kronomex, 27 Feb 2017 @ 2:59pm

    Let's hope The Donald doesn't get a tweet about this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 5:36pm

    Sounds like a bill proposed by some stupid liberal, better to just toss it in the circular file.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 28 Feb 2017 @ 9:14am

    In China, they force you. Here... they get you to want it. E-Z Pass.

    https://www.aclu.org/blog/free-future/newly-obtained-records-reveal-extensive-monitoring-e-zpas s-tags-throughout-new-york

    http://www.mcall.com/news/breaking/mc-ez-pass-turnpike-fines-0716-20150716 -story.html

    So what does one do if they have to get off an exit that is crucial but only ez-pass?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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