Surveillance in China will affect you
May 3, 2019
On my WFMU show Techtonic recently, I interviewed New York Times journalist Paul Mozur about Chinese surveillance, which he's been covering (and experiencing first-hand) in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang.
In a region of 10 million Chinese citizens, mostly Uighur Muslims, an estimated 10% of the population is now locked up in re-education camps. The remainder of the population can stay out of the camps as long as they're compliant: hence the surveillance - on the streets, in the workplace, in the mosques, in people's homes - is pervasive and total. Being caught with a smartphone without the proper surveillance apps installed is a serious offense.
Listen to my interview with Paul Mozur to understand how Chinese surveillance plays out in Xinjiang (and how he was trailed by the same seven "secret" police wherever he went).
Please don't overlook this story because you think it has nothing to do with you. On the contrary, Chinese state surveillance is, in part, a "test case" marketing the power of surveillance-and-control tech to governments and corporations around the world. Silicon Valley is already complicit in this, both supplying the tech and the money. (For example, Silicon Valley-based Sequoia is already invested in Chinese facial-recognition startup Yitu. And Google, Microsoft, and Apple are all trying to increase their cooperation with the Chinese state.) Chinese-style surveillance is headed your way. If you use Google or Facebook products, it's already in your life.
Here are resources. Listen to the interview, and read through the stories below:
• How China Turned a City Into a Prison (New York Times, April 4, 2019, by Chris Buckley, Paul Mozur, and Austin Ramzy, reporting from Kashgar, Xinjiang region, China): "The police sometimes take Uighurs' phones and check to make sure they have installed compulsory software that monitors calls and messages."
• One Month, 500,000 Face Scans: How China Is Using A.I. to Profile a Minority (New York Times, April 14, 2019, by Paul Mozur): "The Chinese A.I. companies behind the software include Yitu, Megvii, SenseTime, and CloudWalk, which are each valued at more than $1 billion. ... Fidelity International and Qualcomm Ventures were a part of a consortium that invested $620 million in SenseTime. Sequoia invested in Yitu."
• Being Tracked While Reporting in China, Where 'There Are No Whys' (New York Times, April 16, 2019, by Paul Mozur): "I was in Kashgar to report on how the Chinese authorities had turned to technology to cement their control of the Xinjiang territory ... my followers were by turns menacing and buffoonish. There were seven of them, and they took down the information of anyone I spoke to, making it too dangerous to interview residents. The police stopped me many times a day at checkpoints, demanding to look through my phone and often deleting photos and videos."
• Limiting Your Digital Footprints in a Surveillance State (New York Times, Feb 27, 2019, featuring Paul Mozur): "China is wired with about 200 million surveillance cameras, Beijing controls the telecom companies, and every internet company has to hand over data when the police want it. They also know where journalists live because we register our address with police. In Shanghai, the police regularly come to my apartment; once they demanded to come inside."
• Looking Through the Eyes of China's Surveillance State (New York Times, July 16, 2018, by Paul Mozur): At a policeman's invitation, Mozur puts on surveillance glasses, looking "through a view finder like one on an old video camera. First I was instructed to aim it at a female officer. A small rectangle appeared around her head, and after a few seconds, the screen displayed her name and national identification number." ... "The abilities and intentions of the authorities here are rarely clear, and uncertainty is part of the point. China's surveillance state is far from perfect, but if people don't know where it excels and where it breaks down, there's a better chance they'll assume it's working and behave."
• China Appears to Block Microsoft's Bing as Censorship Intensifies (New York Times, Jan 23, 2019, by Paul Mozur and Karen Weise): Microsoft's Bing search engine has been blocked in China, "even though the American company already censors its results in China." Mark's note: Pity Microsoft, trying their best to accommodate Chinese censors by removing from Bing any mention of democratic impulses in China - and still they don't get credit! They'll have to take their surveillance-manipulation tools and just apply them on Americans.
• We Built a (Legal) Facial Recognition Machine for $60 (New York Times, April 16, 2019, by Sahil Chinoy): "But the city's LinkNYC kiosks, which are scattered through the streets and intended to provide free wireless internet, each have two security cameras. Law enforcement agencies need a subpoena or court order to gain access to the footage, and using facial recognition is against the policy of the company that owns the kiosks. However, the existence of more than 3,000 additional cameras has raised concerns about their potential to bolster the city's surveillance capabilities." Mark's note: Excellent story, but would suggest one clarification: the "company that owns the kiosks" is Google/Alphabet, and it certainly has no problems with facial recognition.
• Someone Smashed The Hell Out Of Dozens Of LinkNYC Kiosks (Gothamist, Apr 22): "at least 30 LinkNYC kiosks in the West Village and Chelsea" have been smashed.
Above, from Looking Through the Eyes of China's Surveillance State
• The Messy Truth About Social Credit (Shazeda Ahmed in Logic magazine, April 2019): American media depictions of China's social credit system "are wildly off-base... the [Chinese] social credit system as it currently exists is not aimed at Orwellian social control... the government is itself unsure, and is still in the process of figuring out, what such a system can accomplish." Hmm... Ahmed goes on to describe the blacklists of social credit: "Punishments for landing on certain blacklists include being barred from taking civil service jobs, from sending one's children to private schools, and from booking air travel." Finally, Ahmed points out (correctly) that American data brokers have created some of the same methods of control here in the US. (See Frank Pasquale on Techtonic from November 2018.)
You're invited: Sign up for movie night on Friday, May 10 at WFMU in Jersey City (easy to get to from downtown NYC): we're showing "The Truth About Killer Robots," which the Guardian called "the year's most terrifying documentary." 7:30pm doors, 8pm show. See you there.
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