Ian Williams in The Times describes the CCP’s 540 million cameras that have created a surveillance state used by the digital Stasi” to control the population and to crush dissent.

Dec 4, 2022 | News

Ian Williams in The Times describes the CCP’s 540 million cameras that have created a surveillance state used by the digital Stasi” to control the population and to crush dissent. Link to the article:


Extracts –    “ China’s digital Stasi sees all from cyberspace. With 540 million cameras, AI that identifies you by your walk and knows how you’re feeling, and a system to rate a citizen’s loyalty, President Xi has built a 21st-century state to crush dissent…

Today, while force cannot be ruled out, the claustrophobic repression that underpins Xi’s rule as leader of the Chinese Communist Party is grounded in cyberspace. Xi is using tools of surveillance and social control that Chairman Mao could never have dreamed of: he has built a digital totalitarian state… Eight of the world’s most surveilled cities are in China, and the cameras being used to watch them are increasingly smart: China leads the world in the marriage of video cameras with the software for facial recognition and for identifying people by the way they walk.

The next phase is emotional recognition: one `behaviour management system’ designed for schools logs whether students look happy, upset, angry, fearful or disgusted. Xi’s party is working on what is called micro-expression technology, which is able to identify 54 brief, involuntary expressions the face creates before the brain has a chance to control facial movements. And it is not only Chinese cities that are blanketed with cameras. Under a programme called Sharp Eyes, the party has extended surveillance deep into the countryside. `The people have sharp eyes’ was a slogan used during the Cultural Revolution when family and neighbours were urged to spy on each other for signs of disloyalty to Mao. The system was to have been fully installed in remote and rural regions by 2020, with `full coverage, network sharing, real-time availability and full control…’ Then there is the internet. Xi’s communist party has not just tamed it, largely cutting it off from the rest of the world, but weaponised it as an instrument of social control. Phase one was the Great Firewall, which employs increasingly sophisticated algorithms as well as an estimated two million internet police to block objectionable websites, images and keywords. The party also employs internet monitors whose job is to join a chat in order to change or steer the conversation. Phase two is `social credit,’ a system that is still in its early stages but will enable the authorities to track every detail of online behaviour and rate citizens according to their loyalty. It has already been used to limit access to goods and services, as well as travel, loans, education and jobs. Data is gathered by wi-fi `sniffers,’ typically at transport hubs or checkpoints. These are able to penetrate local networks and monitor traffic both for content and for the IP addresses of computers, smartphones and other devices, from which the owner can be identified. Surveillance is becoming a design feature of future technologies. China leads the world in electric vehicles, which must, every 30 seconds, send data to the Chinese government, including the car’s position, direction and speed, enabling its location to be pinpointed to within a metre. A planned new digital currency, perhaps the ultimate surveillance tool, will give unprecedented volumes of data about movement and behaviour. China is also investing heavily in artificial intelligence systems aimed at processing the vast amounts of data it is now harvesting — largely unencumbered by those pesky western notions of privacy or data protection… Other biometric data, including DNA, is collected and added to the Orwellian mix. The Covid-19 pandemic has also been a boon to the surveillance state, enabling its rapid expansion across China in the name of a health emergency. Cameras have been calibrated to identify people with masks and to have thermal imaging capabilities. In addition, every Chinese citizen must carry a colour-coded app with a QR code, which determines their ability to move around. The app crunches tracking data as well as information on contacts and much more — the precise recipe is unknown — in order to determine the infection risk. Green is freedom, red means immediate quarantine. It must be presented at checkpoints that blanket the country — even in taxis, and at the entrances to shops and apartment blocks. Party bosses have discussed retaining the app even after the pandemic is over… China’s budget for domestic security is bigger than that for defence. The surveillance state is overseen by the Ministry of State Security, China’s main secret police and intelligence agency — effectively MI5 and MI6 rolled into one. Policing the internet comes under the Cyberspace Administration of China, though much of the day-to-day censorship is sub-contracted to internet companies.”   
Ian Williams’ The Fire of the Dragon: China’s New Cold War” is published by Birlinn

Lord David Alton

For 18 years David Alton was a Member of the House of Commons and today he is an Independent Crossbench Life Peer in the UK House of Lords.

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