Craft­ing a sur­veil­lance state

How the Chi­nese use tech­nol­ogy to build their unas­sail­able state

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By David A. Keene

The fear of a night­mare fu­ture that in­spired “An­i­mal Farm,” “Brave New World” and “1984” is rapidly be­com­ing a re­al­ity in to­day’s China, where that na­tion’s Com­mu­nist lead­ers have em­braced the tech­nol­ogy of the 21st cen­tury to craft a sur­veil­lance state few but these 20th cen­tury authors could even imag­ine.

Tyrants of the last cen­tury at­tempted in Ger­many, Rus­sia, China and Cuba to con­struct regimes that would mon­i­tor and ul­ti­mately control the ac­tions and even the thoughts of en­tire pop­u­la­tions, but try as they might none of them re­ally suc­ceeded. They told them­selves and the out­side world that they were do­ing what they did to re­make man and build a bet­ter world, but what they were re­ally do­ing was at­tempt­ing to cre­ate a com­pli­ant cit­i­zenry that could never threaten their grip on power.

Ge­orge Or­well put it suc­cinctly: “[T]they never had the courage to rec­og­nize their own mo­tives. They pre­tended, per­haps they even be­lieved, that they had seized power un­will­ingly and for a lim­ited time, and that just around the cor­ner there lay a par­adise where hu­man be­ings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the in­ten­tion of re­lin­quish­ing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not es­tab­lish a dic­ta­tor­ship in or­der to safe­guard a rev­o­lu­tion; one makes the rev­o­lu­tion in or­der to es­tab­lish the dic­ta­tor­ship.”

Or­well’s “we” are to­day’s Chi­nese Com­mu­nists who are build­ing a tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced in­ter­nal se­cu­rity sys­tem that, if com­pleted as planned, will al­low them to control ev­ery as­pect of the lives of nearly 2 bil­lion peo­ple and rest easy at night in the knowl­edge that they have built an unas­sail­able state, some­thing that Hitler, Stalin and their soul­mates were never able to ac­com­plish. Pre­vi­ous to­tal­i­tar­ian lead­ers re­lied on brute force, do­mes­tic spies and paid in­for­mants while to­day’s to­tal­i­tar­i­ans have ac­cess to com­put­ers, fa­cial recognition soft­ware and al­go­rithms, tools that make the in­ter­nal con­trols of old seem am­a­teur­ish.

Last week, Bei­jing an­nounced a plan to “grade” the 22 mil­lion peo­ple in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal in ways that will al­low the regime to de­ter­mine whether in­di­vid­ual cit­i­zens should be re­warded or pun­ished for their pub­lic and pri­vate be­hav­ior and be­liefs. Even­tu­ally the sys­tem will be rolled out to in­clude all of China’s 1.2 bil­lion peo­ple. Those who act in ways the regime approves will re­ceive re­wards based on their “grades” in­clud­ing bet­ter ac­cess to hous­ing, jobs and other ben­e­fits while those who don’t mea­sure up will au­to­mat­i­cally be de­nied such ben­e­fits and find it dif­fi­cult if not im­pos­si­ble to get good jobs or even travel. The goal is to get all of China’s cit­i­zens to think, talk and act as their rulers dic­tate.

The un­wor­thy or those who find them­selves less than po­lit­i­cally cor­rect will find them­selves on a “black list,” ac­cord­ing to press re­ports and will, ac­cord­ing to Bloomberg News, find them­selves “un­able to move even a sin­gle step” both fig­u­ra­tively and phys­i­cally. With only parts of the sys­tem in place, China’s 11 mil­lion cit­i­zens have been de­nied the right to travel by air and an­other 4 mil­lion have been de­nied the right to pur­chase rail­road tick­ets.

In the good old days, dic­ta­tors had to hire spies to keep an eye on their peo­ple. It was learned af­ter the col­lapse of the Soviet Em­pire, for ex­am­ple, that East Ger­many had about 18 per­cent its peo­ple on the pay­roll of one se­cu­rity agency or an­other to re­port on the rest. That means that if one had a din­ner party back then, there was a sta­tis­ti­cally very good chance that some­one at the ta­ble would be re­port­ing what ev­ery­one else said to the regime.

The regime kept files on ev­ery­one and en­cour­aged kinder­garten­ers to rat out their par­ents and other chil­dren. When East Ger­many fell, re­searchers found ware­houses full of files, in­clud­ing in­for­ma­tion on the ex­tra-mar­i­tal af­fairs, po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect con­ver­sa­tions and ques­tion­able ac­tiv­i­ties of ev­ery­one. There was so much in­for­ma­tion that it be­came vir­tu­ally use­less as it couldn’t be col­lated or uti­lized ef­fec­tively in a timely man­ner by con­stantly frus­trated se­cu­rity of­fi­cials.

The Chi­nese hope they have solved that prob­lem and are brag­ging about it as a way of con­vinc­ing their cit­i­zenry that there will be no es­cape. Ge­orge Or­well wrote in “1984” that “If you want a pic­ture of the fu­ture, imag­ine a boot stamp­ing on a hu­man face—for­ever.”

The Chi­nese are con­vinced they have de­signed a boot for just that pur­pose.

The regime kept files on ev­ery­one and en­cour­aged kinder­garten­ers to rat out their par­ents and other chil­dren.

David A. Keene is an ed­i­tor at large for The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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