China out-Big Brothers Big Brother
George Orwell’s 1984 surveillance-state is an oft-quoted reference when speaking of threats to our freedoms in the 21st century. But Orwell could never have imagined the technology that was just around the corner when he wrote his book 150 years ago. Data collection via social media, coupled with face and gait recognition, and almost unlimited data storage mean that every person on the planet can potentially be monitored in real time for the most nefarious purposes.
China is leading the world in this kind of surveillance, which is aimed at modifying the behaviour of its citizens. With 200,000,000 (that’s two hundred million) surveillance cameras, every action is evaluated and entered into China’s Social Credit System.
The Digital Totalitarian State
The ABCs Foreign Correspondent recently aired an episode on China’s system. Shopping habits, alcohol consumption, bill payments, internet viewing and personal relationships are monitored in the name of a ‘safe and stable society’. According to the program, President Xi’s vision under this digital Social Credit system is that China will be ‘rich, democratic, cultural, harmonious and beautiful.”
However, for those who find themselves on the wrong side of the government, the system meant to create ‘heaven on earth’ takes on a sinister flavour. For speaking out against corruption and other crimes against the state, citizens can be blacklisted, with no apparent means to redeem themselves. Social media accounts can be shut down, travel restrictions enforced, and threats made against the family of anyone who dares to speak out against communist officials or policies.
China’s minority Uyghur Muslims are under particular scrutiny from government authorities. As with other Chinese citizens, the Uyghurs are subjected to finger printing, facial analysis, and having blood and voice samples taken. However, in an arrogant display of domination, Chinese flags flies from the top of their mosques. Uyghurs are exempt from the official Social Credit system, because they are deemed inferior. Instead, they are placed into one of three basic categories, each with ensuing consequences, such as curtailment of religious freedoms. Some Uyghurs – perhaps a million, according to the UN – are sent to re-education camps where they are brainwashed with political propaganda.
Just Google it – if the party lets you, that is
However, China’s Big-Brother tactics are influencing some of the biggest players in western democracies. Left-leaning investigative bloggers at The Intercept announced in August that Google is to release a modified version of its search engine for the Chinese market. The censored version, known as Dragonfly, will hide results that mention ‘human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest.’
China’s internet firewall, nicknamed the Great Firewall, stopped the search engine from operating there almost ten years ago, after Google ceased supplying its censored version in response to public backlash. But in a reversal of policy, Google has now agreed to adhere to censorship requirements and has developed an Android app for use in China. The prototype has already been approved by Chinese officials.
According to The Intercept:
The Chinese government blocks information on the internet about political opponents, free speech, sex, news, and academic studies. It bans websites about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, for instance, and references to “anticommunism” and “dissidents.” Mentions of books that negatively portray authoritarian governments, like George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, have been prohibited on Weibo, a Chinese social media website. The country also censors popular Western social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as American news organizations such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Only a handful of Google staff are working on the project, and these are prohibited from speaking to the media about it. This has led to action from within Google aimed at securing more transparency over the project, with several employees resigning from the company. Project Dragonfly is only one of several joint innovations between the China and Google. Almost as sinister as the censored search engine is the artificial intelligence centre Google revealed it was building in Beijing in December last year. This is despite China openly stating that it plans to dominate economically and militarily through the use of AI technology.
And speaking of sinister, take a look at this concluding statement from The Intercept’s article:
Google insiders say that it is not known when the company will obtain the approval from officials in Beijing because an escalating trade war between the U.S. and China has slowed the process. However, Google’s search engine chief Ben Gomes told staff at a meeting last month that they must be ready to launch the Chinese search app at short notice, in the event that “suddenly the world changes or [President Donald Trump] decides his new best friend is Xi Jinping.”
Hmmm. It’s almost as if we have global elites, who have no political loyalties, at work behind the scenes manipulating world leaders.
Coming to a nation near you
Surveillance is on the increase in Australia, as well. In New South Wales, the police force has expanded the use of surveillance cameras to capture drivers using mobile phones. While this is a legitimate end, legislation in NSW is aimed at ‘not limiting’ the tech designers, (whatever that means) and attempts are being made to add the new cameras to existing infrastructure, such as the speed camera network.
But increasing surveillance is only part of the problem. A more immediate concern is the source of the technology itself. Two Chinese companies, Hikvision and Dahua, have been credibly accused of passing on information gathered by their devices to the Chinese government. Cameras made by Hikvision have been found in sensitive defence facilities, such as US military bases and the US embassy in Kabul, as well as at the RAAF base in Adelaide. Several countries, including the US, have now stopped using those companies as sources for their surveillance cameras. Despite concerns, Australia still allows the use of devices made by these companies:
… Hikvision and Dahua remain in use at every level of government, from some of the most sensitive federal government agencies all the way down to suburban councils.
That’s right: almost all of the surveillance cameras hanging in Australian offices, schools, universities, homes and shopping centres are made by these two Chinese companies. And the Chinese government retains a 42% stake in one of them. This is the same kind of security system that monitors the minority Uighur Chinese in mainland China.
Surveilling the Surveillors
Interestingly, IPVM, a website dedicated to – among other things – exposing Hikvision and Dahua was last month censored by Chinese authorities. The website suggests that its censorship may be due to:
- Being the first to reveal that Hikvision and Dahua won over $1.2 billion in state surveillance projects in Xinjiang, a region where Chinese authorities are accused of building a dystopian “surveillance state” and detaining up to one million civilians in re-education camps
- Numerous articles on Hikvision’s ties to the Chinese government, its controlling shareholder
- Revealing the use of Hikvision cameras at the US Embassy in Kabul
- Hikvision cameras falsely being labeled as “made in the USA” on GSA, a website for US government contractors
- Hikvision’s use of ‘minority analytics’ that automatically determine if someone is an ethnic minority or not
- Numerous articles on Hikvision and Dahua’s poor cybersecurity and backdoors
Black Mirror or Big Brother – take your pick
Orwell’s 1984 gave us a glimpse into a world where language and history were constantly being redefined and where politically-correct speech ensured protection from the worst of Big Brother’s over-reach. China’s behaviour modification program, while echoing Orwell, can also be likened to an episode from the fictional Netflix program, Black Mirror. In that episode, every citizen is constantly rated in real-time and receives benefits for a higher score. Likewise, lower scores are reflected in the denial of access to certain services. Even personal interactions are rated, which leads to a superficial world of trivial encounters and a culture of ‘niceness’.
The world of Black Mirror has come to life in China, where the threat of superficiality pales into insignificance when measured against the constant risk of incarceration, forced labor camps, or even death for failing to toe the party line. China has effectively factualised fiction and out-Big-Brothered 1984 in ways that Orwell could not have predicted.
Australia is playing a dangerous game if our government thinks it can use Chinese surveillance devices and still maintain its national security. But with our leaders like Daniel Andrews firmly in bed with the Chinese, one can only wonder how much of this is intentional. Do people like Andrews and Google’s directors really think they are safe once China has reached its goal of world domination?
Treasonous collaborators should take this lesson from 1984 to heart, ““If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”
Editor, The Freedoms Project
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