The Great Chinese Surveillance
Credits: TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images
There is something big happening in China right now, technology is being used like never before to mould society. In China, the government isn't the only thing under the CCP's control. It also controls the public and corporations. WeChat which is a Chinese messaging service with over 1 billion users was rated 0/100 by Amnesty International for security. Which means it is subject to both surveillance and censorship. WeChat even publicly admits that it share the user's personal data with the Chinese government. But Wechat isn't just a messaging app; you can survive in China just through this one app. It has email, banking, payment services, social platform, you can even pay your electricity bills through the app. So the Chinese people can use WeChat for everything and the Big Brother can see it all. As the proverb goes "Knowledge is Power". Byte Dance's TikTok became wildly popular in India with almost 120 million monthly active users. It recently came under scrutiny for its shady data policies and activities. In June Apple released iOS 14 with a focus on privacy protection. As a feature, the iPhone notified you whenever an app tried to access your data in the background or even logged your keystrokes. So when the users tried using the TikTok app, the iPhone repeatedly sent notifications (every time you pressed the keyboard) that it is accessing the data. Logging your every keystroke? that's pretty serious. We don't know if the data is sent to the servers in China or not but even the part where it is logging the keystrokes is extremely shady.
What does the government do with all this data? the implications are massive. From surveillance to censorship to detering anti-government protest. This is also partly a reason of the Hong Kong protests.
The idea of shaming people into conforming is the Chinese way. In 2018 China introduced a social credit system. If you have seen the Black Mirror episode Nosedive, you know that it is set in a world with a social credit system where you can rate people based on your interactions with them. This credit score determines your status in society. The home loans you get, the flights you can take, the car you rent are all determined by this score. The credit system in China is eerily similar to the Black Mirror. Just imagine a dictatorial regime like China having control of this system. Your whole life will essentially be determined by whether you follow the ideology of the Communist Party of China. Any form of dissent or even speaking the truth which defames the CCP will be squashed. In 2018 a list of 169 severely discredited people was released. They were banned from taking flights and trains for a full year.
Lui Hu was an investigative journalist in China. He was labelled as a dishonest person after he filed a case against a high ranking CCP member of corruption and was detained for a year after which lost his case and social standing. He was banned from buying property staying in hotels and even from sending his 9-year-old daughter to a private school. This kind of social credit system has a large potential for abuse by the authoritarian government and exert more control over the population as a whole.
The Great Firewall of China
Credits: Freedom House
Technology can be a tool for a more transparent and open world but the same is not the case in China. China ranks worst in the world for internet freedom. Worse than Iran and Syria. There are over 10,000 domains that are currently blocked by the Chinese firewall. They include Google, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter. According to Bloomberg News, the Chinese employ over 100,000 people to enforce the firewall. This gets ridiculous to a point where the animated character Winnie the Pooh was banned as the internet trolls compared it to Xi Jinping.
Even at the start of the pandemic, Dr Li Wenliang fell victim to Chinese surveillance and censorship. He tried to warn the world about the new Coronavirus that emerged in China by posting it on the Weibo group to warn the fellow doctors. 3 days later he was reprimanded by the Chinese officers and forced an apology.
The Huawei Ban
As a part of the ongoing trade war with China, one of the largest tech companies in the world was blacklisted by the United States. It was a de facto ban on US companies dealing with Huawei. The ban on Huawei was more about security than economics. Huawei has been under scrutiny by the US lawmakers and US intelligence for its ties with the CCP and the PLA. It is believed that the Huawei's hardware could provide a backdoor to the massive Chinese surveillance apparatus. In 2018 FCC introduced a rule which blocks federally backed telecom providers from using Huawei hardware.
Huawei is one of the leading manufacturers of 5G modems in the world. 5G networks are designed to support the next generation of the internet. It will not only be on smartphones but also IoT devices and even self-driving cars. Huawei has some PLA officers as its board members even the CEO was an engineer for the PLA. Such close ties with the Chinese army and the CCP has led to concerns about the security and privacy of its hardware components.
I like to think that technology can bring us closer and be a great tool for society but it is increasingly becoming a double-edged sword. Surveillance and censorship are two major hurdles. There is a very slim chance that the Chinese government will be using it for good. Moulding a person's behaviour through the use of force is something I don't agree with. One thing is certain, technology is a very powerful tool. Will our government go down the same path? Like with the Aarogya Setu app. No doubt, the intentions behind building the app are good but it also gives a tremendous amount of power in the hands of the government which can track the movements of 1.3 billion people!
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Cover image credits: TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images