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How
would you feel if your every move and decision were being tracked, recorded,
and ranked? Nobody really wants a camera to follow them everywhere they
go. Welcome to China where the Chinese government is experimenting a new
system of surveillance as part of its overt and covert expansion of government
intervention and surveillance. Alarmingly, this surveillance system is increasingly showing up all
around the world.

China is widely
expanding its surveillance network to strengthen and maintain vigilance of its
entire populous by tracking peoples’ movements through cellphones and
monitoring content of telephonic conversations and emails. Attempts by the
government to transform the internet into a system of surveillance and
censorship represent a fundamental threat to media freedom and democracy at
large.

Cities in China
are under the heaviest CCTV surveillance in the world, according to a new
analysis by Comparitech, which provides information for research and
comparative analysis of tech services. It has
been widely reported that China today has about 200 million CCTV cameras in
use, a figure predicted to rise 213% by 2022 to 626 million. China is projected
to have one public CCTV camera for every two people. However, the Comparitech report suggests the number could be far higher.

These
monitoring systems are tighter and heavier handed in Tibet.

Another
striking corroboration of China’s sophisticated surveillance system is the
widespread use of highly advanced cameras with artificial intelligence which
have facial recognition system and can estimate people’s age, ethnicity and
gender. These cameras can run recognition systems that match you with your
relatives and your associates and within no time pull out a list of people you
frequently meet. These invisible eyes that follow you, wherever you go and
whatever you do make you suffocated and generate a strong and lasting sense of
fear.

The Chinese
government admits that the technology using facial recognition, body scanning,
and geo-tracking are matched with personal data to keep tab on people in real
life and online. Their master plan is to
use these technologies as the backbone of their nascent social credit system.

Social credit
system

Since
Xi Jinping tightened his power grip on technology and surveillance many new
notorious strategies to suppress the freedom of expression have been
implemented. These include the introduction of new cyber security law, the
launch of Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) and the initiation of a social credit system – a score-based system relying on the adoption of
desired behavior based on social merit. This system both punishes and
rewards key behaviors through a range of initiatives such as public shaming,
travel bans, limited or extended business opportunities, and favorable or
devalued credit ratings. The ultimate goal is to hammer into citizens the idea
that “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful”

The point
system citizens will incentivise lawfulness, integrity, and trustworthiness
with real time impacts on what citizens can and can’t do. Perks like good
behavior could lead to privileges of faster internet services, travel ticket
booking convenience in flights and trains, and even concessions on advance
deposits for renting cars and booking hotels. Having a low social credit score
could mean restrictions on traveling, refusal of passport, difficulty in
getting employment and being publicly shamed among others.

China’s
National Public Credit Information Center reported that it had cancelled
airline tickets of 17.5 million people due to their unproductive scores and 5.5 million were barred from
booking train tickets in 2018 because of low social credit scores.

China’s
technological power grip around the world

For the
Communist Party of China the key motive for gathering, analyzing and evaluating
data is to preempt and uncover any threat to the social and political stability
of its iron grip on China. It is indeed for the first that a government is
employing highly advanced technology to expand internet surveillance and
censorship to maintain the stability of own rule. China
uses surveillance technology to spy on human right defenders, dissidents, and
lawyers, deny freedom of speech and subvert anti-communist party campaigns.
This abuse of technology fundamentally undermines democracy and threatens human
rights.

According to the
People’s Daily, the party-owned largest newspaper group in China, the Chinese
capital of Beijing is now completely covered by surveillance cameras that watch
over “every corner of Beijing city”.

Authoritarian
governments across the globe are acquiring state of the art technologies to
repress dissent at a rapid pace. For construction of “Smart Cities” in Pakistan, Philippines
and Kenya, Chinese companies including Huawei and ZTE are involved in supplying
extensive built-in surveillance technologies. Bonifacio Global City in the Philippines outfitted by Huawei has internet-connected cameras
that provide “24/7 intelligent security surveillance with data analytics
to detect crime and manage traffic.”

Surveillance
built with loans from the Chinese Government

Chinas export of surveillance technology
began in 2008 during the Beijing Olympic where it marketed its surveillance
mechanisms and ‘solutions’.  Prior to the Olympics, 300,000 new cameras
were installed in the capital. China then invited many foreign officials to
observe the effectiveness of its new authoritarian technologically advanced
tools. Since then, the Party has exported its ‘solutions’ to many countries
with severe human rights records including but not limited to Ecuador,
Venezuela, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Kenya, Iran, and Zimbabwe.

China’s collaboration with authoritarian governments across the globe to
build large-scale surveillance systems has given rise to global threats to free
speech and privacy.

In his research, Prof. Steven Feldman from Boise State University’s
School of Public Service found that China is exporting AI-equipped surveillance
technology to at least 54 countries around the world with
government types ranging from closed authoritarian to flawed democracies”

With China’s help Ecuador now has a new surveillance system, ECU-911
meant to expand automated policing and reduce crime rates. This $200 million
deal was jointly signed by China’s State-controlled C.E.I.E.C and Huawei, and funded by Chinese loans in exchange for Ecuador
providing them with their principal export, oil. Ecuador’s surveillance systems were not
only made in China, but were installed by Chinese companies and workers.
Chinese even trained the Ecuadorians how to use it.  

China’s
export of advanced technologies is a show of strength and capability to the
world. It represents the country’s ability to compete with established powers
(notably the US) in important sectors, reducing dependency and promoting
self-reliance. However, Chinese companies often lack transparency and, most
importantly, are without a doubt subordinate to the Chinese Communist Party.

The seriousness
of the perceived security threats from Chinese technology companies is evident
from the US’s notable restriction or outright prohibition of companies such as
Huawei. The US has also encouraged its allies to do the same. Australia,
Great-Britain, New-Zealand, the US, and Canada have all adopted measures to
restrict the use of Huawei devices and Chinese infrastructure. 

Security
implications of the export of Chinese surveillance systems

Under President
Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has vastly extended domestic surveillance,
fueling a new generation of companies that make sophisticated technology at
ever-lower prices. With China’s global outreach, the domestic systems are
spreading far and wide.

Loans from
Beijing have made surveillance technology available to governments that could
not have previously afforded it. Adding to this lucrative deal is China’s total
lack of transparency and accountability of its use. This rapid development and
export of China’s surveillance equipment is helping strengthen a future of
tech-driven repression, potentially leading to the loss of privacy.

CCP’s
export of surveillance systems to willing governments around the globe has
given rise to significant national security risks for individual states as a
result from their extensive reliance on and cooperation with Chinese
state-owned enterprises or CCP member-owned firms in key infrastructure
development projects and expansion of the state security apparatus. These
high-tech exports including 5G infrastructure, fiber optics, and telecom
equipment aid China’s rapidly rising control and influence over its trading
partners. Ultimately, these strategic moves could lead up to China’s goal of
strengthening its internet sovereignty, securing its position as a great global
power; widen its sphere of influence particularly in South-East Asia and Africa
with the help of the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), promote its economic
dominance, and provide an alternative to the United States and its allies.

The
advent of modern technology in China granted the government, particularly under
President Xi Jinping’s leadership, the opportunity to innovate, the expertise
to initiate and the free-hand to implement modern surveillance technologies.
This new and extremely effective combination of state control apparatus has
proven to be incredibly valuable for the Party in tightening security measures,
assuring its long-term survival, shaping public opinion, and suppressing
resistance.

CCP’s
evolving surveillance strategies in Tibet

The
iron curtains on Tibet have been shut for a long time and the entire region is
off limits for free and independent visits of international media, journalists,
advocates, researchers and government and civil society representatives. The
highly repressive situation inside Tibet makes it difficult to understand the
scope of digital surveillance in the region. Over the years, China’s
surveillance system in Tibet has been growing and evolving at an unprecedented
scale. The
abundance of manned and unmanned checkpoints, AI, CCTV camera networks and
re-education centers under the garb of national security have added
another layer of control to an already extremely controlled and oppressed
environment in Tibet.

Furthermore,
the CCP is constantly upgrading its ‘Great Firewall of China’ to monitor and
limit online and offline traffic by creating its ‘own’ internet and limiting
access to the ‘traditional’ web. Chinese authorities in Tibet are offering
large cash rewards to informants in a bid to stamp out online ‘subversive’
activities curbing free flow and dissemination of information. According to a notice issued on Feb 28 by three
government departments of the so called Tibet Autonomous Region information
leading to the arrests of social media users deemed disloyal to China can fetch
up to 300,000 Yuan ($42,582). People sharing political contents or commentary
deemed sensitive they face arrest and heavy criminal penalties.

Surveillance
in Tibet and Xinjiang have been widely known as “Orwellian.” In
addition to the traditional security surveillance apparatus of the military,
police, and neighborhood spies, modern surveillance technologies have been
specifically developed and tested in these regions. According to human right reports,
tight security measure currently being practiced in Uyghur to suppress the
resistance movement were previously successfully developed and practiced in
Tibet by Chen Quanquo, TAR’s then party secretary. Following his highly suppressive
policies in Tibet, Chen was appointed the party secretary in Xinjiang and continues to be
the chief architect of the massive surveillance and mass detention systems in
the region.

Spring 2008
witnessed the historic and widespread uprisings in Tibet against China’s rule
which were followed by a series of self-immolations by 153 Tibetans demanding
the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and freedom in Tibet. These protests
prompted China to maximize and fast track the scope and intensity of its
security surveillance both in the number of security personnel and digital
technology. In January 2012, the central government introduced a new surveillance system called the
“grid system of social management”.In preparation of the implementing
the new system, cadres in plainclothes were deployed in every Tibetan village
and monastery. The campaign ironically called
“Benefit the Masses” involved sending some 21,000 communist party
cadres from townships and urban areas to live in teams of four or more in each
of the 5,000 villages in TAR. Authorities
expanded their network of small police posts known as “convenience” stations to
every 200-300 meters in urban areas, to quickly respond to any threat. In 2016,
a total of 696 convenient police check posts were newly set up.

New
digital surveillance efforts include mandatory collection of DNA samples, Wifi
network monitoring and widespread implementation of facial and voice
recognition to all connected and integrated data analysis platforms. According
to Wall Street Journal’s study of police department documents from across
China, the Chinese authorities plan to double their current DNA trove to 100
Million records by 2020. DNA sampling of Tibetans on the Tibetan plateau is
widespread under the guise of mandatory medical check-ups aimed at controlling
the movement of Tibetan people and further restrict their freedom.The author’s interviews
with recent arrivals from Tibet confirmed that beginning in July 2013 Tibetans
in cities and villages are being asked to undergo free medical checkup and
blood samples have been collected.

Tenzin
Tsultrim, a researcher at Tibet Policy Institute based in India believes that
China might extend its profiling of DNA samples to even foreign tourists, including Tibetans from
India and western countries, visiting Tibet.

Also,
CCP’s security spending has increased exponentially since 2008. Germany based
researcher Adrian Zens has reported that TAR “has had the highest per
capital domestic security expenditure of all provinces and regions.” In
2016, per capita domestic security expenses in Sichuan province’s Tibetan
regions were nearly three times higher than Sichuan province as a whole”

The
author expressed concern over China’s intention to launch Huawei 5G networks in
Tibet, which would make it easier to deploy sensors and enable quick transfer
of high volumes of data for real-time analysis. Companies facilitating digital
surveillance in Tibet include Alibaba, search provider Baidu, chat app operator
Tencent holdings, voice recognition company iFlyTek and facial recognition
system Sense Time. State subsidies and other government privileges make Tibet a
lucrative market for these businesses to invest and employ their latest
technologies. Companies operating in Tibet enjoy a highly reduced tax rate of
9% compared to the standard cooperate tax rate of 25% for the rest of China.

Conclusion

The non-transparent and unchecked export
and adoption of China’s highly advanced technologies to foreign markets
represent severe intelligence and security threats, especially when integrated
directly to national security and surveillance apparatuses. China has
successfully put at risk the safety and security of dissidents and activists
all over the world and strengthened rouge and undemocratic regimes with its
export of surveillance technologies.

Another serious danger for states
adopting Chinese technologies is their over reliance on foreign technology to
run and manage core government systems thus representing a risk to their very
sovereignty. CCP has not only been proliferating its methods through free or
subsidized hardware, AI technology and training, but has also been gaining
insights and direct connection to the information stream of partner-states.

Surveillance information stream can be
realistically used in two ways as targeted micro information to gain leverage
on important targets and as a means to gather and employ big data; the use of
which is essentially endless. In this sense, there is little to no transparency
nor accountability and imposes a very high-security threat.

Exporting
the surveillance model is also a strategic move by the CCP’s to further test
its model, apply it in variable contexts, and gather additional data and
intelligence. The Party gains a direct access into partner-states information
stream; advantageous information about markets, business opportunities,
important actors, etc. and even possibly sensitive information that could be
used to persuade or coerce important actors on local or international matters.

The
widespread implementation of surveillance, leading to the intrusion of one’s
privacy, may become a cause for further unrest in restrictive states. The
absence of freedom and opportunities for people to vent their grievances will
most likely expound hatred leading to even more collective anger and dissent
among suppressed groups.

Inside
Tibet, over the last decade, the “nets in the sky and traps on the ground” have
further suppressed the fundamental freedoms of expression, movement and
assembly. New and highly advanced technologies have given unrestricted and
illicit power to the state security apparatus to intensify and escalate mass
surveillance. Checkpoints
with smart surveillance and facial recognition are present in cities and at
crossings between neighboring districts and provinces. Tibetans inside their
homes are tracked through their phones and once they step outside surveillance
and facial recognition technologies follow them wherever they go. This is the
reality of today’s Tibet and if the free world is unwilling to restrict the
import of China’s technologies, this could be your reality tomorrow.





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