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Surveillance cameras at Tiananmen Square in 2009. In 2019, Comparitech

Mass surveillance in China is the network of monitoring systems used by the Chinese government to monitor Chinese citizens. It is primarily conducted through the government, although non-publicized corporate surveillance in connection with the Chinese government has been speculated to occur. China monitors its citizens through Internet, camera as well as through other digital technologies.[2][3] It has become increasingly widespread under General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping’s administration.[4][5]

Mass surveillance in China is closely related to its Social Credit System, and has significantly expanded under the China Internet Security Law and with the help of local companies like Tencent, Dahua Technology, Hikvision, SenseTime, ByteDance,[6] Megvii, Huawei and ZTE, among many others.[7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14] As of 2019, it is estimated that 200 million monitoring CCTV cameras of the “Skynet” system have been put to use in mainland China, four times the number of surveillance cameras in the United States.[2][15][16] By 2020,[needs update] the number of surveillance cameras in mainland China is expected to reach 626 million.[17][18][19] The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the implementation of mass surveillance as it has provided a plausible pretext to do so.[20]

Contents

  • 1 History
    • 1.1 Origin
    • 1.2 21st century
    • 1.3 Timeline
  • 2 Technologies
    • 2.1 Internet
      • 2.1.1 Sex and pornography on the Internet
    • 2.2 Videocameras
    • 2.3 Other digital technologies
  • 3 Applications
    • 3.1 Social credit system
    • 3.2 By region
      • 3.2.1 Mainland (excluding frontiers)
      • 3.2.2 Tibet
      • 3.2.3 Xinjiang
      • 3.2.4 Hong Kong
      • 3.2.5 Taiwan
  • 4 Spending estimates
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links

History[edit]

Origin[edit]

Mass surveillance in China emerged in the Maoist era after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.[21] Mao invented this mechanism of control that encompassed the entire nation and its people in order to strengthen his power in the newly founded government.[21] In the early years, when technology was relatively undeveloped in China, mass surveillance was realized through disseminating information by word of mouth.[21] Chinese people kept a watchful eye on one another and reported inappropriate behaviors that infringed upon the dominant social ideals of the time.[21]
According to a publication from 1987, computer and Internet technology spread to China in the late 20th century as a result of the Chinese economic reform.[22]

21st century[edit]

See also: Internet in China and Supercomputing in China

In 2005, the Chinese government created a mass surveillance system called Skynet. The government revealed Skynet’s existence in 2013, by which time the network included over 20 million cameras. In addition to monitoring the general public, cameras were installed outside mosques in the Xinjiang region, temples in Tibet, and the homes of dissidents.[23]

In 2017, the Chinese government encouraged the use of various mobile phone apps as part of a broader surveillance push. Local regulators launched mobile apps for national security purposes and to allow citizens to report violations.[24]

As of 2018, the most notable surveillance mechanisms were mass camera surveillance on the streets, internet surveillance, and newly invented surveillance methods based on social credit and identity.[3][25]

As of 2018, the Chinese central government had also adopted facial recognition technology, surveillance drones, robot police, and big data collection targeting online social media platforms to monitor its citizens.[26][27][28]

In 2019 NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said China’s mass surveillance mechanisms and machinery of private communications was “utterly mind-boggling”.[29]
As of 2019, it was estimated that 200 million monitoring CCTV cameras of the “Skynet” system had been put to use in mainland China, four times as many as the surveillance cameras in the United States.[2][15][16] State media in China claim that Skynet is the largest video surveillance system in the world, utilizing facial recognition technology and big data analysis.[11][30][31] In 2019, Comparitech reported that 8 out of 10 most monitored cities in the world are in China, with Chongqing, Shenzhen and Shanghai being the world’s top 3.[17][32][33] In 2019, China supplied surveillance technology to most of the world, and positioned the country in control over the mass surveillance industry.[34]

According to industry researcher IHS Markit, at the end of 2019 there were 770 million surveillance cameras in China, and this was expected to exceed 1 billion by the end of 2021.[35] The government says this prevents crime, but citizens worry that their data and their privacy could be compromised. In late October 2020, Deng Yufeng, an artist, used performance art to highlight the issue of how difficult it is to dodge the view of security cameras.[36]

Timeline[edit]

  • In 2011, the Beijing Municipal Science & Technology Commission proposed a mobile phone tracking program, to be called the Information Platform of Real-time Citizen Movement, which was ostensibly intended to ease traffic flow on the city’s streets.[37]
  • In the four years up to 2012, 100,000 crimes supposedly had been solved with the aid of surveillance cameras in Guangdong according to officials. However, a critic said that “one of the most important purposes of such a smart surveillance system is to crack down on social unrest triggered by petitioners and dissidents.”[38]
  • In 2013, the government saw the severe atmospheric pollution in Chinese cities as a security threat, because the closed-circuit television cameras were rendered useless.[39] In December 2013, the Vice Minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology asked China Telecom, a major landline and mobile telephone company, to implement a real name registration scheme.
  • In 2014, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology followed with a request to regulate the dissemination of objectionable information over the network.[40] Also in 2014, China used a government-backed brain and emotional surveillance project on an unprecedented scale in factories, public transport, state-owned companies and the military.[41][42]
  • In January 2014, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television announced that real names would be required of users who wished to upload videos to Chinese web sites. The agency explained that the requirement was meant to prevent vulgar content, base art forms, exaggerated violence and sexual content in internet video having a negative effect on society.[43]
  • According to an official document released in 2015, the Chinese government aimed to build a nationwide video surveillance network by 2020 to ensure public security, which will be omnipresent, fully networked, working all the time, and fully controllable.[44](subscription required)
  • In 2016, China introduced a cybersecurity law, requiring internet companies to store all network logs for at least six months and to store all personal data and critical information within mainland China.[45] Also in 2016, China deploys AnBot Police Robot equipped with stun weapon and facial recognition cameras start patrolling the Shenzhen airport.[46]
  • In 2018, Chinese law enforcement officials were equipped with facial recognition Smartglasses in order to apprehend criminals, especially drug smugglers.[47] The technology was originally adopted at the 2017 Qingdao International Beer Festival.[47] With its assistance the police claimed to have captured many criminals, including 25 fugitives, 19 drug smugglers, and 37 plagiarists.[47] Also in 2018, Chinese authorities admitted for the first time that they could access WeChat users’ deleted messages without their permission.[48] The Chaohu city discipline inspection and supervision commission retrieved a suspect’s entire conversation history that had already been deleted in one incident.[48]
  • In March 2019, China announced a regulation on small video apps, which was deemed to be a method to prevent teenagers’ internet addiction disorder. It allows related apps tracing users’ location and analyzing users’ behaviors to forcibly trigger teenager mode. It was used in all small video apps by June 2019.[49] In 2019, China announced that the third generation of Resident Identity Cards will be able to trace location. Blood information will also be collected and recorded in the card.[50]
  • In 2020, Chinese law enforcement officials wore “smart helmets” equipped with AI-powered infrared cameras to detect pedestrians’ temperature amid the coronavirus pandemic. The smart helmets, used by the Chinese police, also have facial recognition capabilities, license plate recognition and the ability to scan QR codes.[51][52]

Technologies[edit]

Internet[edit]

See also: WeChat § State surveillance, and Internet censorship in China

The Chinese government has been strengthening its tight control over the Internet and digital communication. There are more than 750 million Internet users in China, and their online actions are strictly regulated.[53] In 2017, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) released a new regulation, which imposed restrictions on the production and distribution of online news.[54] The regulation required all platforms, such as online blogs, forums, websites, and social media apps to be managed by party-sanctioned editorial staff.[54] These staff must obtain approval from the national or local government Internet and information offices and be trained by the central government.[54] As required by the Chinese government, major internet platforms and messaging services in China established elaborate self-censorship mechanisms. Some have hired teams of thousands to police content and invested in powerful artificial intelligence algorithms.[55] In 2019, on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protest, China’s AI censors cranked up.[56]

Launched in 2011, WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app, is under surveillance by Internet police. Any message sent through a WeChat group is monitored by the Chinese technology giant Tencent, the application’s operator. All conversations are stored for six months.[57] Even conversations deleted by WeChat users can be retrieved back by Tencent, especially when government authorities seek evidence of a suspect’s illegal activities.[58] Authorities have admitted that they can retrieve archived messages once sent on WeChat.[58][59] Nevertheless, Tencent CEO Ma Huateng stated that his company will not use user chats for big data analysis or invade users’ privacy.[58][59]

In 2017, the Chinese government required all users of Sina Weibo, microblogging site, to register with their real names and identity numbers by September 15 of that year.[60] Weibo users who refused to register their accounts with real names were not able to post, repost, and comment on the site.[60]

At the beginning of 2018, Ma Huateng, chairman and CEO of Tencent, claimed that WeChat’s monthly active users across the globe reached a billion for the first time.[61] Since Tencent cooperates with the central government to implement self-censorship and mass surveillance, it enjoys dominance of its industry in China. Other messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, Messenger, and Line are mostly blocked or even forced out of the Chinese market.

Chinese Internet users have several ways to circumvent censorship. Netizens generally rely on virtual private networks (VPNs) to access blocked websites and messaging apps. However, in July 2017, the Chinese government required telecommunications carriers including China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom to block individual access to VPNs by February 1.[62] In August 2017, more than 60 VPNs, such as Astrill and Express VPN, were removed from China’s App Store.[63] VPNs that are allowed to be used in China must be approved by state regulators and use the state network infrastructure.[64] Instead of sensitive words which can be censored online, Chinese netizens use puns and Chinese homophones to communicate.[65]

Sex and pornography on the Internet[edit]

The Chinese government has been denouncing 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.[66]
As of 2012[update] the most frequent way Chinese people were accessing otherwise banned sexual material was through the Internet.[66] According to a 2012 article, the number of sex-related pages was increasing at the time.[66] As of 2010[update] China’s Ministry of Public Security had collected intelligence agents from student groups to spy on people’s internet activities.[67] When government efforts at porn censorship and surveillance heightened in 2010, instances of erotic activism also emerged online.[66]
As of 2012[update] movies, books, comics, and videos involving sexually sensitive or provocative material were typically banned on Chinese Internet.[66] Web administrators have been seeking sexual information online to remove it as soon as they found it or otherwise censor it.[66]

As of 2018[update], there have been sections in China’s criminal law which explicitly forbid the production, dissemination, or sale of obscene material, for which people can be imprisoned.[66][68] In the 1980s, there was a campaign against “spiritual pollution,” referring to sex-related content.[66][68] 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.[69]
As of 2019[update], conservative attitudes toward sex talk have remained standard amongst the general public.[70]

Videocameras[edit]

A camera monitoring warning sign near the Monument to the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, Lhasa, Tibet, 2018

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.[25] At the same time, approximately 40 million surveillance cameras were active in the United States in 2014,[71] which amounts to approximately one camera per eight citizens; however, these are largely installed by homeowners and stores rather than the government. According to official statistics in 2012, more than 660 of the mainland’s 676 cities use surveillance systems.[72] 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.[72] 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.[73]

The facial recognition technology has technological and systematic limitations.[25] For example, a supervisor at an AI 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.[25] Additionally, the system cannot work continuously for long periods of time, requiring reactivation in cases of extreme need.[25]

The National Information Security Standardization Technical Committee (全国信标委生物特征识别分技术委), which is subordinate to the China Communications Standards Association, started a project in November 2019 to create mandatory standards for facial recognition in China.[74] The project is led by SenseTime and has been assigned to a working group comprising 27 Chinese companies.[75] Also Chinese companies are working to shape United Nations’ standards for facial recognition, video surveillance of cities and vehicles, with ZTE, Dahua Technology, China Telecom and others proposing standards to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).[76][77]

Other digital technologies[edit]

China has highly advanced facial recognition technology.[78] The technology is integrated with others, such as big data and AI, to build a national surveillance and data sharing platform.[79] The smart system is equipped with facial recognition technology to record jaywalkers and non-motor vehicles that break traffic rules.[80] 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.[80] Moreover, Baidu, a Chinese multinational technology company, cooperated with China Southern Airlines to install the facial recognition technology in Nanyang Jiangying Airport, Henan for boarding.[81]

Robot police have been installed in public places such as train stations, museums, and tourist attractions.[82][83]

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.[84]

Applications[edit]

Social credit system[edit]

See also: Social Credit System

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.[85][86][87] 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. Under this algorithmic surveillance system, people, their identities, and their actions are connected to a citizen score.[88] By utilizing information gathered about the citizens’ activities captured by cameras and analyzing them with AI and data mining techniques, the state calculates and updates their citizen scores regularly. Participation in this system is currently voluntary but will become mandatory in 2020.[3][86][88] Many Chinese citizens have already started using the Sesame Credit created and operated by Alibaba, an e-commerce company.[88] The Sesame Credit is designed such that those with good credit scores can live a more convenient life than others with low credits scores.[3][86] 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.[85][86] On the other hand, people with low credit scores cannot easily eat in restaurants, register at hotels, purchase products, or travel freely.[85][86] Another credit evaluation system is the Credit Reference Center established by the People’s Bank of China and it is the official way of receiving a detailed consumer or commercial credit report upon requests from individuals or companies. [89]

By region[edit]

Mainland (excluding frontiers)[edit]

In mainland China, one of the most important ongoing projects is a Skynet project with an installation of more than 200 million video surveillance cameras.[90] 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.[91] Additionally, the surveillance system can instantly match a person’s image with their personal identification and information.[91] Golden Shield is a giant mechanism of censorship and surveillance that blocks tens of thousands of websites that may present negative reports about the Communist Party’s narrative and control.[92]

Tibet[edit]

The Chinese government sent groups of cadres to Tibetan villages as part of the Benefit the Masses campaign in 2012.[93] The purpose of the campaign was to improve service and living quality in Tibet and to educate the locals about the importance of social stability and adherence to the Communist Party.[93] The local people were also supervised in order to prevent uprisings from taking place.[93]

In Tibet, users of mobile phones and the Internet must identify themselves by name.[94] The government reported that the program had reached full realization in June 2013.[94] An official said that “the real-name registration is conducive to protecting citizens’ personal information and curbing the spread of detrimental information.”[94]

In 2018, during the Saga Dawa, the holy fourth month for Tibetan Buddhists, the government enforced stricter rules in Lhasa, according to the Global Times.[95] People were also discouraged from engaging in religious practices in this month.[95] When they did, they were supervised closely.[95]

As a method of protesting, some Tibetans have engaged in immolation, which is a tradition of protest against Chinese control that was first practiced in the mid-20th century.[96]

Xinjiang[edit]

In Xinjiang and especially its capital city, Ürümqi, there are security checkpoints and identification stations almost everywhere.[97] 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.[97] The ratio of police officers stationed in Xinjiang to population is higher than elsewhere.[98] This strict enforcement of security checks is partly a response to the separatist movement in 2009 associated with Muslim Uyghurs.[97] Additionally, the cameras on streets are denser there than elsewhere, numbering 40,000.[97][98] The information collected by the cameras is matched with individual profiles, which include previously collected biometric data, such as DNA samples and voice samples.[99] People are rated on a level of trustworthiness based on their profiles, which also takes into account their familial relations and social connections.[99] These levels include “trustworthy,” “average,” and “untrustworthy.”[99] The data is fed into the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (Chinese: 一体化联合作战平台), an AI-powered system used for mass surveillance which generates lists of suspects for detention.[100][101]

Xinjiang residents, especially those from the Uyghur ethnic group, are not allowed to practice certain religious acts.[98] They are also more actively and strictly monitored by surveillance apps, voice printing, and facial recognition cameras.[98] Since 2017, the government has set up re-education camps in Xinjiang for the local people to improve their compliance.[98] 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.[99] They learn about Mandarin Chinese characters and the rules that they need to follow in those camps as well as outside once they leave.[99]

The security spending in Xinjiang ballooned in 2017, witnessing an increase of 90% to $8.52 billion as compared to that in 2016.[98] Since at least 2017, Chinese police have forced Uyghurs in Xinjiang to install the Jingwang Weishi app on their phones, allowing for remote monitoring of the phones’ contents.[102][103]

That same year, Chinese drone manufacturer DJI signed a cooperation agreement with local police to provide surveillance drones in support of their operations.[104] In 2018, China deployed a flock of drones disguised to look like birds to step up surveillance levels in region.[105]

The Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP, 一体化联合作战平台), used by the government to monitor the population, particularly Uyghurs, was reported by The Washington Post and Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 2018.[106] The platform gathers biometrics, including DNA samples, to track individuals in Xinjiang.[107]

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 AI to target people and regulate life inside the camps.[108][109]

In late 2020, HRW obtained a list of 2000 names of Uyghur prisoners held in the Aksu prefecture leaked from IJOP. The list showed that reasons for imprisonment included religious practice such as studying the Koran without state permission or having a long beard, using software or online services such as a VPN, travelling outside of Aksu, switching off one’s phone repeatedly, or having “extremist thoughts”.[110] The leaked IJOP list provided detailed, day-to-day evidence on the workings of the Xinjiang re-education camps that The Guardian described as “unprecedented”.[111] An earlier list, the Karakax (or Qaraqash) list, leaked in February 2020, showed decision-making about retaining or releasing detainees.[110]

Hong Kong[edit]

Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement, a pro-democracy campaign, aims to demand full democracy so that Hong Kong’s citizens can have the right to nominate and elect the head of the Hong Kong government.[112] However, key pro-democracy figures, such as some lawmakers, academics, and political activists, are under the central government’s surveillance. Some activists engaged in the umbrella movement have been intimidated or arrested by policemen.[113] News reports, social media posts, and images about Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests are censored in mainland China.[114]

Internet users and civil society groups in Hong Kong have been facing cyber-attacks and debated threats to privacy online during the past few years.[115] 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.[116][117]

Taiwan[edit]

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.[118] Meanwhile, Taiwanese officials have informed Taiwanese people living in mainland China about the increasing prevalence of surveillance on their activities.[118] This has become an heightened concern since China started offering residence cards and a full national status to people from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau who were living in the mainland.[119] As a result of Beijing’s initiative, individuals such as students and workers can apply for a residence permit after residing in mainland China for six months.[118] This policy extends social service and medical benefits to them, who now enjoy those services in the same way as other Chinese citizens.[118] 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.[120]

Spending estimates[edit]

In 2010, domestic security expenditure exceeded spending on external defense for the first time. By 2016, domestic security spending surpassed external defense by 13%.[121]

In 2017, China’s spending on domestic security was estimated to be US$197 billion, excluding spending on security-related urban management and surveillance technology initiatives.[121] 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.[44]

In 2018, China spent the equivalent of US$20 billion purchasing closed-circuit television cameras and other surveillance equipment.[122] This large number of purchases reaches half the size of the global market’s, according to an estimate reported in a state newspaper.[122]

See also[edit]

  • 50 Cent Party of Chinese state paid internet commentators
  • Chinese intelligence activity abroad
  • Digital Authoritarianism
  • Disease surveillance in China
  • Great Firewall
  • Human flesh search engine
  • Social Credit System

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

  • an official document about strengthening Internet surveillance released by National Development and Reform Commission
  • Society portal
  • China portal


Retrieved from “https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mass_surveillance_in_China&oldid=1006668401”

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