Once the realm of science-fiction film Minority Report, China is using its sophisticated surveillance system as a basis for a new “unified information environment” that will be used to predict if someone will commit a crime before they actually do it.
Each citizen will be profiled and tracked – this includes their online behaviour, financial transactions, and where they go and who they visit. All the while, authorities will be looking for any break in the norm that could be an indicator of potential “terrorism.” The system could watch for unexpected money transfers, overseas calls by individuals with no relatives outside of the country, and so on. The technology they’re using was actually pioneered in the US.
According to Patrick Tucker of Defense One, the Chinese government is starting to use “predictive policing” programming that was previously used by US authorities, along with funding research into machine learning and artificial face recognition software that would be used to identify people from CCTV images. The “Situation-Aware Public Security Evaluation (SAPE) platform” will predict “security events” based on the combination of data of hundreds, if not thousands of people – such events include anything from a genuine terrorist attack to a large crowd forming.
China has heavily invested in building up its monitoring capabilities over the past 5 years, meaning that it has a large amount of data to feed into the system. Spending on “domestic security and stability” has well surpassed its defence budget, turning it into the biggest market in the world for security-related technology. Anti-terrorism laws that were passed in December gave the government more powers to closely watch its populace and requires any technology companies who do business in China to help them out in that surveillance.
The legislation states that companies “shall provide technical interfaces, decryption and other technical support and assistance to public security and state security agencies when they are following the law to avert and investigate terrorist activities”. This is pretty much the “golden key” that FBI Director James Comey has been demanding in the US – it is not therefore surprising to hear that China has taken a keen interest in the outcome of the ongoing legal battle between Apple and the FBI over the iPhone used by San Bernardino jihadist Syed Farook.
Jack Hadfield is a British libertarian writer who just can’t control his cishet white male privilege. You can follow him on Twitter here: @ToryBastard_.