The Chinese surveillance state has developed a more agile kind of authoritarianism that
can exert unprecedented social control. It does this by utilizing massive amounts of data
and cutting-edge artificial intelligence. Chinese authorities think they can foresee
dangers and issues before they materialize if they have access to enough data and
appropriate instruments. The goal is a flawlessly constructed society that automatically
silences critics and rewards conformists with comfortable, secure, and predictable
The ability of the Communist Party to broaden and hone its influence over Chinese
society has been utterly essential. Internet behemoths like Alibaba and Tencent possess
vast amounts of behavioural data that Silicon Valley firms can only hope to possess and
they share that data with the government much more readily. The reason for this is the
Chinese national security act which compels firms to divulge customer data to the
Chinese authoritarian government.
In 2019, NSA leaker Edward Snowden referred to China’s systems for widespread
surveillance and monitoring of private conversations as “utterly mind-boggling.” In
mainland China, there were reportedly 200 million monitoring CCTV cameras of the
“Skynet” system in use as of 2019, which is four times as many as there are in the US.
According to official Chinese media, Skynet, which employs big data analysis and
facial recognition technologies, is the world’s largest video surveillance system.
According to a 2019 Comparitech research, Chongqing, Shenzhen, and Shanghai are
the top 3 most watched cities in the world, with 8 of the top 10 cities in the world. China
provided the majority of the world with surveillance technologies in 2019, giving it
control over the mass surveillance industry.
Alibaba created a cloud platform called the City Brain in its home city of Hangzhou
that controls several crucial operations, including traffic, electricity use, and healthcare
To further subdue internet companies, Chinese President Xi Jinping has recently
slammed them with additional regulatory restrictions. The concern at this point is how
the crackdown would impact the innovation that has made the businesses such useful
allies for the government.
In the past, money has been the biggest obstacle to the expansion of state monitoring.
Paying a lot of employees to work countless hours operating pricey machinery was
necessary for tracking a lot of people.
Chinese technology businesses have reduced the cost and increased accessibility of
cutting-edge surveillance devices, much as they did with drones and communications
equipment. They have also been pleased to set up advantageous financing for countries
looking to purchase Chinese tracking technologies. According to Sheena Greitens’
research at the University of Texas, more than 80 countries throughout the world,
including several democracies, have purchased Chinese police surveillance devices.
Although they have not been verified, Chinese tech businesses claim to have sold their
goods considerably more widely than that.
Technology that presents itself as being “smarter” than it actually is referred to as
“Potemkin AI,” a term that was invented by surveillance researcher Jathan Sadowski.
He used M, a now-defunct Facebook virtual assistant that was partially operated by
humans when it was introduced in 2015, as an example.
Similar deception is used by most of the AI used in the Chinese surveillance state.
Chinese official media is rife with fabricated or exaggerated reports of lost children
being located by facial recognition. However, it does not really matter. The Communist
Party is concerned with whether people “think” the technology works. The appearance
of truth counts for more than the truth itself.
The panopticon, a circular prison based on ideas his brother had while working on one
of Potemkin’s villages, was created by British social theorist Jeremy Bentham using the
same dynamic. Every prisoner must imagine they are being observed constantly
because the guard in the central tower can only keep an eye on a certain number of
prisoners at once.
Except for Australia and Antarctica, every continent has received imports from the
Chinese surveillance business. The Chinese government occasionally provides training
to international police agencies on how to operate the equipment they are purchasing.
Autocratic leaders find it simpler to hold onto power with the help of these tools. As
Yoweri Museveni did in Uganda with a surveillance system he bought from Chinese
tech firm Huawei, incumbent presidents can utilize them to construct de facto
authoritarian regimes in nations with weak democratic institutions.
Advanced democracies face a huge challenge, especially during the global democratic
recession. China has a distinct view for how governments should utilise these
technologies. Democracies, meanwhile, are having trouble offering a substitute. Clearly
prioritizing privacy, the European Union is considering outright banning real-time
digital surveillance.
However, the United States is embroiled in confusion as different states take a rag-tag
approach. With the War on Terror, Americans contributed to the development of the
global market for digital monitoring. Their readiness to face this most recent
advancement in tracking technologies will probably determine how things develop from

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