A High-Tech Big Brother Plan

Dennis Faas's picture

In a couple recent articles by myself and my colleague Brandon Dimmel, we've mentioned the Big Brother concept a couple of times. Now we can talk about the worst Big Brother case scenario known to modern man (and woman).

When used correctly, the concept of Big Brother can be beneficial to everyone's safety and security. When used as a tool to maintain complete control over an entire country, there is always the possibility of mind-numbing civil rights violations, too.

At least 20,000 police surveillance cameras are reportedly being installed along streets in southern China. These will soon be guided by sophisticated computer software designed to automatically recognize the faces of police suspects and to detect unusual activity. In addition to the surveillance cameras, residency cards fitted with computer chips will be issued to most citizens. The cameras and the residency cards are being provided by China Public Security Technology, an American-financed company incorporated in sunny Florida.

Data stored on the chip will include:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Work history
  • Educational background
  • Religion
  • Ethnicity
  • Police record
  • Medical insurance status
  • Landlord's phone number
  • Personal reproductive history (for enforcement of China's controversial "one child" policy)

Plans are currently being studied to add credit histories, subway travel payments, and small purchases charged to the card.

The Chinese government ordered all large cities to apply technology to police work and to issue the high-tech residency cards to 150 million people who moved to a city but hadn't acquired permanent residency yet. The official reason for the orders is to fight crime and develop better controls over an increasingly mobile population. But, they could also be used to help maintain tight controls on the population.

Michael Lin, Vice President for investor relations at China Public Security Technology, the company providing the technology, said "If they do not get the permanent card, they cannot live here, they cannot get government benefits, and that is a way for the government to control the population in the future."

Shenzhen is the first Chinese city to use the new residency cards. The city already has 180,000 indoor and outdoor cameras owned by businesses and government agencies. The police will be able to link them into the same system the 20,000 new cameras will be using.

Every police officer in Shenzhen carries global positioning satellite (GPS) equipment on their belts, allowing senior police officers to direct their movements with software produced by China Public Security Technology that runs on Microsoft Windows. IBM, Cisco, HP and Dell helped in the development of the system being used. If a police officer goes indoors and can't receive a GPS signal, the system can track the officer's cell phone based on the three nearest towers.

Since the Imperial era, the main technique used for social control in China has been the maintenance of detailed resident records by local government agencies. All Chinese citizens are required to carry National Identity Cards with embedded computer chips.

That system worked when most people spent their entire lives in their hometowns. Now, more Chinese are moving in search of work and the system has eroded. Shenzhen has 10.55 million migrants from elsewhere in China who will be receiving the new cards. 1.87 million permanent residents will not receive the new cards because local agencies already have permanent files on them.

Welcome to the 21st century.

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