by Alison Xin
In certain Chinese cities, the government has implemented a public safety program that feels decidedly “Big Brother”-esque. Millions of cameras across the country send real-time surveillance data to law enforcement. Surveillance devices have become ubiquitous, not only lining public areas like streets, subways, and parks, but also monitoring apartments, houses, and even bathrooms. Instead of pigeons, cameras top most lampposts and gutters, unceasingly scanning the passing crowd.
Ostensibly, mass surveillance makes citizens safer. The ever-growing network of CCTV feeds, in conjunction with advanced facial recognition, allows police to apprehend suspects in minutes, even in a crowd of people. Individuals can be pinpointed as soon as they step onto the street or even leave their homes. Certain petty criminals, such as jaywalkers, can be caught, identified, and fined without any human intervention. And that’s all well and good, except for the small detail that the Chinese Communist Party has had no qualms blatantly violating human rights for the sake of “stability.” To the government, the line between “criminal” and “dissenter” may as well be non-existent.
This may sound mildly dystopian, but the majority of Chinese people don’t care, or don’t care enough to voice any concerns. As a whole, there’s a tendency to brush off surveillance as an insignificant inconvenience, something to only worry about if you dare to make too many waves. In other words, people feel like they have nothing to hide. Similar sentiments have started leaking over to the United States, as the population as a whole pays less and less attention to attempts by the government to crack personal information from phones and laptops. With the recent FaceBook-Cambridge Analytica debacle, a brief surge in privacy concerns has occurred. Unfortunately, such public concern is probably temporary, meaning China’s example of mass surveillance may be too close to the American future than comfort.