Will Beijing push the boundaries of social control?
The Chinese government is moving beyond its well-developed system of internet censorship – the so-called Great Firewall – to harness technology and data for the purpose of tracking the behavior of individuals and of companies that operate in China. The government is creating a nationwide “social credit” system designed to rate every citizen, based on actions at work and in public as well as on personal financial transactions. The system has generated intense debate among China-watchers, with some calling it an ominous experiment in social control and others saying it is primarily an effort to thwart corruption and regulate corporations. Some experts doubt that the government currently has the capacity to create a mass-surveillance state, given the extensive technological integration needed. Despite such doubts, it seems clear that Chinese authorities are laying the groundwork for a sweeping system of data collection and monitoring.
Some key takeaways:
China is the world’s most restrictive country in limiting online activities, according to the human rights watchdog Freedom House.
The techniques that the government employs to monitor its citizens include widespread use of surveillance cameras in public places, installation of iris scanners in restive regions and a rapidly expanding DNA database.
China has made it clear that it expects all companies operating in the country, including foreign corporations, to aid the government by storing data locally and allowing authorities to access that information.
Resources for Further Study
Roberts, Margaret E., “Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall,” Princeton University Press, 2018. A scholar uses digital data and propaganda leaks to examine how censorship influences public life in China.
Walton, Greg, “China’s Golden Shield: Corporations and the Development of Surveillance Technology in the People’s Republic of China,” Rights & Democracy, 2001. A cybersecurity expert explains China’s massive online surveillance project.
Chin, Josh, “About to Break the Law? Chinese Police Are Already On To You,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 27, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/
Dou, Eva, “Jailed for a Text: China’s Censors Are Spying on Mobile Chat Groups,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 8, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/
Sacks, Samm, Paul Triolo and Graham Webster, “Beyond the Worst Case Assumptions on China’s Cybersecurity Law,” New America, Oct. 13, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/
Sacks, Samm, “New China Data Privacy Standard Looks More Far-Reaching than GDPR,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, Jan. 29, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/
Reports and Studies
“China: Big Data Fuels Crackdown in Minority Region,” Human Rights Watch, Feb. 26, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/
“China: Police ‘Big Data” Systems Violate Privacy, Target Dissent,” Human Rights Watch, Nov. 19, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/
“Forbidden Feeds: Government Controls on Social Media in China,” PEN America, March 13, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/
“Giving Credit 3: Inputs and Outputs,” China Law Translate, Jan. 15, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/
Triolo, Paul, et al., “China’s Cybersecurity Law One Year On: An Evolving and Interlocking Framework,” New America, Nov. 30, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/
The Next Step
Schmitz, Rob, “Facial Recognition In China Is Big Business As Local Governments Boost Surveillance,” NPR, April 3, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/
Wang, Amy B., “A suspect tried to blend in with 60,000 concertgoers. China’s facial-recognition cameras caught him,” The Washington Post, April 13, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/
Zuo, Mandy, “Chinese public toilets go hi-tech with Wi-fi and facial recognition,” South China Morning Post, April 13, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/
Liao, Shannon, “China’s microblogging platform Weibo reverses its decision to ban all gay content after online protests,” The Verge, April 16, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/
Shih, Gerry, “Ethnic Uighurs Protest Chinese Security Crackdown,” The Associated Press/U.S. News & World Report, March 15, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/
Zhao, Christina, “On China’s Weibo, It’s Forbidden to Disagree With President Xi Jinping’s Plan To Rule Forever,” Newsweek, Feb. 27, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/
American Chamber of Commerce in China
Floor 3, Gate 4, Pacific Century Place, 2A Workers’ Stadium North Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, 100027
Trade association representing 900 American businesses operating in China.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute
Level 2, 40 Macquarie St., Barton ACT 2600, Australia
+61 2 6270 5100
A think tank that provides research and advice to policymakers in Australia, especially on issues related to the Asia-Pacific region.
Center for Strategic and International Studies
1616 Rhode Island Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20036
A think tank focusing on economic and international security issues, including cybersecurity and human rights.
Electronic Frontier Foundation
815 Eddy St., San Francisco, CA 94109
An advocacy group that seeks to preserve privacy, free expression and innovation on the internet through litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism and technology development.
Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Ave., 34th Floor, New York, NY 10118-3299
A group including lawyers, journalists and academics that researches human rights conditions and advocates for freedom of online expression and against censorship.
740 15th St., N.W., Suite 900, Washington, DC 20005
A think tank focused primarily on technology and public policy; its Cybersecurity Initiative explores issues of security, data and digital information through partnerships with scholars and practitioners.
Yale Law School Information Society Project
127 Wall St., New Haven, CT 06511
A program that hosts interdisciplinary scholars from around the world exploring issues related to law, technology and society.