(Minghui.org) According to an article published on the OneZero website in early March 2021 titled “China’s ‘Sharp Eyes’ Program Aims to Surveil 100% of Public Space,” the project allows local residents to watch surveillance videos through TVs and smartphones, and then press a button to report any suspicious people to the police.
“The program turns neighbors into agents of the surveillance state,” the article said. As part of the communist government’s five-year plan announced in 2015, the “Sharp Eye” surveillance project was likely expected to reach 100% surveillance of public spaces by 2020.
The Chinese government has been gradually expanding surveillance on its citizens, starting from the “Great Firewall” in the late ‘90s to the latest facial and gait recognition technologies. Beijing continues to closely monitor, control and gather information on people with what many consider digital authoritarianism.
The article said that China’s modern surveillance started in 2003 with the Golden Shield Project, which was run by the Ministry of Public Security. It set up databases that included 96% of Chinese citizens and information on their household registration, travel records, and criminal history.
“Following Golden Shield, China launched two other surveillance projects focused on the installation of cameras. Safe Cities, launched in 2003, focused on disaster warnings, traffic management, and public security. SkyNet focused on installing cameras connected to facial recognition algorithms,” stated the article. There are an estimated 200 million surveillance cameras installed in China in public and private spaces.
Although the Chinese government faces stern criticism abroad for its complete disregard for human rights and privacy, people in China have little choice. Such surveillance systems have been deployed in cities big and small around the country. It is reported that the cost of these systems has become a significant portion of central and local government budgets. For example, in the city of Zhoukou, Henan Province, the city spends as much money on surveillance as it does on education and twice as much as on environmental protection programs in 2018.
The demand for surveillance systems also spawned many companies selling camera hardware and video management software. Several Chinese companies like Sensetime, Megvii, Hikvision, and Dahua have been sanctioned by the U.S. Government for their involvement in the persecution of the Uighur ethnic minority in Xinjiang.
In December 2020, Australia’s Lowy Institute published a report titled “Digital Authoritarianism, China and COVID,” in which it revealed that the pandemic had emboldened the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to expand its use of digital technologies in the name of public health and safety. “With the CCP’s digital authoritarianism flourishing at home, Chinese-engineered digital surveillance and tracking systems are now being exported around the globe in line with China’s Cyber Superpower Strategy,” the report said.
The report identified China as one of the main practitioners of digital authoritarianism. “Digital authoritarianism involves much more than censorship in the online space. It includes individual and mass surveillance through the use of cameras, facial recognition, drones, GPS tracking, and other digital technologies in support of authoritarian governance,” it said. The report also stated that China has stepped up its so-called “wolf warrior diplomacy” and disinformation campaigns.
The CCP is providing $17 billion USD in loans and investments in telecom networks, mobile payment systems, and projects such as smart cities, e-government, smart education, digital health, and other big data initiatives throughout the developing world. “At least 80 countries from Latin America, Africa, and Asia have adopted Huawei’s Safe City solutions or other Chinese surveillance and security technology platforms.” according to the report.
Threat to the Free World
The CCP is increasingly being recognized as a threat to the free world. Freedom House noted in its annual report “Freedom on the Net” on October 14, 2020, that “For the sixth consecutive year, China was found to have the worst conditions for internet freedom.” The report said, “With the onset of COVID-19, every component of the regime’s internet control apparatus—including automated censorship, high-tech surveillance, and large-scale arrests—was activated to stanch the spread of not just the virus but also unofficial information and criticism of the government.”
In a speech given on October 23, 2020, former Deputy National Security Advisor Mattew Pottinger said of the Chinese communist regime, “Assembling dossiers has always been a feature of Leninist regimes. The material is used now, as before, to influence and intimidate, reward and blackmail, flatter and humiliate, divide and conquer,” referring to a leaked Chinese database of at least 2.4 million people around the world, including politicians, members of royal families, celebrities, and military figures in various countries.
In July 2020, Taichung City of Taiwan replaced surveillance cameras in underground passageways after some residents noticed that the cameras were made in China. The cameras that had been installed in Taichung were manufactured by Hikvision, a state-owned Chinese company that supplies video surveillance equipment for civilian and military purposes. It was reported that the South Korean military stopped the installation of 215 security cameras manufactured by a Chinese company after malicious code was found in its device management software.
Not only has the CCP used scientific and technological means to strengthen the authoritarian system and restrain the freedom of its own people, but it is also now using the UN’s geospatial center and big data research center to extend its censorship and surveillance of the public overseas. Many feared that the CCP will censor and monitor people from all countries, not just China.
In an article published in the Wall Street Journal on October 7, 2020, titled “China Uses the U.N. To Expand Its Surveillance Reach,” author Claudia Rosett wrote, “Mr. Xi’s promised U.N.-China geospatial and big-data advanced would enable for detailed mapping of everything from topography and infrastructure to human conduct, throughout time and across the globe. China beneath its personal steam is already accumulating and in some instances pilfering troves of information worldwide. However, the U.N. badge of legitimacy would make it simpler for Beijing to save flows of information from member states, affect U.N. requirements and norms for such information assortment, form the outcomes, feed them into the U.N. system—and project the Chinese language Communist Occasion’s techno-tyranny worldwide.”
To counter China’s global ambitions, the U.S. government is leading the effort to address the threat of the CCP in cyberspace. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on November 10, 2020, that almost 50 countries (including 27 NATO allies and representing nearly two-thirds of the world’s GDP) and 170 telecom companies had joined the Clean Network, a group that has pledged to use only trusted vendors in their 5G networks.
In December 2020, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officially initiated proceedings to revoke and terminate China Telecom (Americas) Corporation’s prior authorization to operate in the United States. More recently, the FCC began taking measures to revoke the authority of three more Chinese telecom companies to operate in the U.S., citing national security concerns. James Andrew Lewis, senior vice president and director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the U.S. does not trust China because the CCP is a surveillance state that conducts espionage using high-tech methods and does not abide by the law.
While governments strengthen information security to prevent the CCP’s infiltration, it is suggested that the general public increase their vigilance and awareness of information security as well. People should guard themselves against the CCP’s effort to gather personal data to avoid exposing themselves to potential violations of privacy.