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Mass surveillance in China

Mass surveillance in China is the network of monitoring systems used by the Chinese government to supervise the lives of Chinese citizens.[1]

The most notable mechanisms today are mass camera surveillance on the streets, Internet surveillance, and newly invented surveillance methods based on social credit and identity.[3][14]

Local regulators launched mobile apps for national security purposes and to allow citizens to report violations, 'which is a way for residents to conduct social supervision,' according to a commentary in the state-run tabloid Global Times.[15][16]

Besides mobile phone apps, the Chinese central government has adopted facial recognition technology, surveillance drones, robot police, and big data collection targeting online social media platforms to monitor its citizens.[17][18][19]

State media in China claim that Skynet is the largest video surveillance system in the world, utilizing facial recognition technology and big data analysis.[7][22][23]

In addition, the number of surveillance cameras in mainland China is expected to reach 626 million by 2020, while Shenzhen alone reportedly intends to raise its number of surveillance cameras from 1.93 million to 16.68 million in the upcoming years.[24][27][28]

The regulation required all platforms, such as online blogs, forums, websites, and social media apps to be managed by party-sanctioned editorial staff.[45]

The government denounces sex and pornography culture and actively establishes sex education for teenagers and high school students in order to prevent them from developing an interest in this culture.[55]

In 2018, a Chinese erotic writer who wrote and sold a gay porn novel named Occupy online was sentenced to a ten-and-a-half year prison sentence.[58]

By 2018, the Chinese government had installed close to 200 million surveillance cameras across the country, which amounts to approximately one camera per seven citizens.[14]

In Guangdong province, 1.1 million cameras were installed in 2012, with plans to increase the number to two million by 2015 at a predicted cost of 12.3 billion yuan.[61]

By 2020, the Chinese government expects to integrate private and public cameras, leveraging the country's technological expertise in facial recognition technology to build a nation-wide surveillance network.[62]

After taking camera shots on the streets, the government uses an artificial intelligence system and facial recognition technology to identify each person captured and create an activity profile for that person.[14][62]

For example, a supervisor at an artificial intelligence firm that provides research support for this technology has stated that the system of activity profile can only look for a maximum of a thousand people in one search.[14]

When shopping in the self-service markets of Alibaba and Jingdong, two top Chinese e-commerce companies, customers can use electronic payments through the facial recognition system, which links them with their bank cards.[69]

Furthermore, the Chinese government uses big data technology in order to analyze and monitor people's online behavior, such as Sesame Credit, which ranks its users based on their online activities along with its previously mentioned functions.[74]

In connection with camera surveillance, the Chinese government is developing a social credit system that rates the trustworthiness of its citizens by analyzing their social behaviors and collecting fiscal and government data.[75][76][77]

After capturing people's activities and identifying them through facial recognition techniques, the government links their activities to this personal credit rating so that the information is stored in a quantifiable and measurable way.

By utilizing information gathered about the citizens' activities captured by cameras and analyzing them with artificial intelligence and data mining techniques, the state calculates and updates their citizen scores regularly.

For instance, people with high credit scores do not need to pay deposits when checking in at hotels and can obtain visas more quickly than others.[75][76]

On the other hand, people with low credit scores cannot easily eat in restaurants, register at hotels, purchase products, or travel freely.[75][76]

The real-time pedestrian tracking and recognition system can precisely identify people's clothing, gender, and age, as well as both motor and non-motor vehicles.[80]

People need to show their ID cards and have their faces scanned by cameras at a security station before entering a supermarket, a hotel, a train station, a highway station, or other public place.[86]

The information collected by the cameras is matched with individual profiles, which include previously collected biometric data, such as DNA samples and voice samples.[88]

People in the re-education camps are usually closely watched by guards and are not allowed to contact others outside the facilities, including family members and other close relations.[88]

In November 2019, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published the China Cables, consisting of six documents, an 'operations manual' for running the camps and detailed use of predictive policing and artificial intelligence to target people and regulate life inside the camps.[92][93]

In June 2014, a white paper on the 'one country, two systems' agreement issued by Beijing articulated that the central government has comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong and that the power to run local affairs is authorized by the central government.[98][99]

The 'SkyNet' technology used by the Chinese government to monitor the population through pervasive cameras covers everyone appearing under the camera network, while it does not affect Taiwan.[100]

Taiwanese authorities are worried about surveillance on the Taiwanese because of the residence cards issued to them, which provide their identities to the Chinese government and subject them to the same surveillance regime composed of cameras, facial recognition technology, and social credit.[102]

In the same year, the central government's total public security spending in Xinjiang reached 57.95 billion RMB, the equivalent of US$9.16 billion, which is ten times the spending of the previous decade.[43]

Global Information Society Watch (GISWatch) Press Kit

If this is the future of the economy, we will have to build the unions of the future.“ AI in Argentina “For civil society organisations to successfully advocate for their interests, they must engage in the technical language of algorithms and mathematical formulas.“ AI in Poland “This gap between stated ethical principles and on-the-ground applications of AI is not unique to China and can be observed in many other countries, including supposed liberal democracies in the West.“ AI in China “In particular, female workers, who are at the bottom of the production process and are often engaged in repetitive tasks, are at the greatest risk of losing their jobs in this sector.“ AI in Bangladesh “This misuse of AI technology represents a clear danger to humanity on many fronts.

Algorithms cannot as yet make perfect decisions, especially in varying warfare conditions.“ AI in Russia “A large number of students with dreams to become national and global leaders in software development face challenges ranging from a lack of facilities and exposure to competition from expatriate IT experts.“ AI in Rwanda “Just like the alchemists, telcos are collating precious registration data alongside other data that would have been considered useless decades ago.“ AI in Uganda “The respondents feared that AI could result in oppression, while the most pessimistic predict the possibility of establishing an AI dictatorship and the destruction of human civilisation.“ AI in Ukraine “The use of AI in the socioeconomic development of Venezuela, in some cases, has only just started and has responded to specific needs that are the result of the humanitarian social crisis in the country.“ AI in Venezuela “How will the work of health practitioners change given the use of AI and robots?

In the process, we have lost sight of the responsibility of the state in smart cities.“ AI in India “Is the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) the panacea for many of the ills of the developing world, or is AI a Trojan horse to facilitate invasion, the smallpox blankets of the new colonialism?“ AI in the Caribbean “If this continues, in a few years, we will not be able to continue working in Africa because we do not have the necessary skills in this area.'

While pointing to the positive use of AI to enable rights in ways that were not easily possible before, this edition of GISWatch highlights the real threats that we need to pay attention to if we are going to build an AI-embedded future that enables human dignity.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​About APC APC is an international network of civil society organisations founded in 1990 dedicated to empowering and supporting people working for peace, human rights, development and protection of the environment, through the strategic use of information and communication technologies (ICTs).

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