China exploiting COVID to push draconian surveillance into homes

FPI / April 30, 2020

Analysis by Paul Crespo

Even before the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ran one of the most sophisticated and intrusive police states in the world. Its high-tech surveillance systems employ advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) to process and analyze massive amounts of data collected from various technologies.

China has developed facial recognition technology that identifies people even if they are wearing a mask. / YouTube

These systems include facial recognition, DNA sampling, biometrics, GPS, ubiquitous high-resolution CCTV cameras, intrusive mobile phone apps, desktop computer software, smart TVs, and drones.

But now, China is going even further.

Under the guise of enforcing quarantines amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the CCP appears to be expanding surveillance across the country by installing cameras pointing directly at the front doors of quarantined peoples’ homes — and sometimes inside their homes, CNN reported.

While the CCP has not made any official announcements of these new surveillance measures, there have been posts on social media, and some residents confirmed their experiences with CNN. Some are saying the cameras are used to enforce self-isolation and ensure that residents are obeying quarantine.

A few have told of funding cameras aimed directly at their front doors, but cameras have also been installed inside homes. “It made me feel like I truly was a prisoner in my own home,” one resident told CNN after a camera was installed pointing directly at her front door.

Reports indicate authorities do not ask for permission and these cameras are linked directly with local police stations. Police have reportedly come to the homes of residents who complain — to “persuade” them to quietly accept the cameras.

China already has eight of the world’s 10 most surveilled cities based on the number of cameras per 1,000 people, according to UK-based technology research firm Comparitech.

According to a report from IHS Markit Technology — now a part of Informa Tech — China had 349 million surveillance cameras installed as of 2018, nearly five times the number of cameras in the United States. By 2021, that number will increase to nearly 600 million cameras — six times the number in the U.S.

As reported last year by Bitter Winter, “[China has] adopted the most pervasive surveillance system in the world, and it not only uses new tech to surveil but to link people to their police record, their social information, their name, and their identity number,” said James Andrew Lewis, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

“It’s the combination of big data, facial recognition, and pervasive surveillance that’s made it the most intrusive thing that anyone has ever seen.”

Skynet, Sharp Eyes, Operation Knocking on Doors, Web-Cleaning Soldier; these are just some of the terms used by China’s state security to describe the draconian surveillance systems deployed to identify, monitor, track, and persecute scores of millions of Chinese citizens, especially ethnic minorities and religious groups, explains Bitter Winter.

What makes these high-tech capabilities so effective is that they are all combined with old-fashioned networks of informants, a constant and invasive police presence, outposts and patrols — and fully integrated with massive computerized databases.

China was already an Orwellian digital dictatorship before COVID-19, but now the CCP can add CCTV cameras trained on front doors of residences, and inside private homes, to their long list of repressive surveillance techniques.

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