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.

Filed Under: china, hong kong, privacy, protests, surveillance


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jun 2019 @ 8:33am

    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!


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