China Surveillance System — Total Digital Surveillance of the Future

Knowing exactly what citizens think, what they read, and what they talk about in their kitchens is the cherished dream of every totalitarian ruler. So surveillance technologies have constantly been polished: wiretapping of telephone conversations, copying of letters, and encouraging denunciations have long been used, but no one could establish complete control.

Read more about the issue of internet censorship here.

Now, China seems to be fulfilling a totalitarian dream. The country’s citizens have been under the gaze of hundreds of millions of cameras for several years, united by a single system for monitoring and analyzing images and recognizing faces.

Artificial intelligence gives each citizen an assessment based on the collected information, which will then largely determine his or her entire life.

Today, we‘ll talk about how the Communist Party seeks to take every citizen of China under its vigilant control.

Learn more about countries with strict internet censorship here.

What is a social credit system?

The social credit system is a dystopia in action: total surveillance, bonuses for exemplary behavior, and punishments for disobedience. This system is being implemented in China, and in a couple of years it will be deployed in full force. So it would seem that a catastrophe is coming. But most Chinese are looking forward to it.

China social credit system

The essence of the system is to give the Chinese conditional points. And depending on their behavior — “useful” or “harmful” — remove or add points. We are talking about the behavior of Chinese citizens on the internet, compliance with traffic rules, timely payment of loans, and the like.

If a person is blacklisted, they may lose the right to buy a ticket for a high-speed train, or not get a job in a state institution; they may be denied social security or banned from teaching children in expensive private schools.

*Note: According to the report of the National Public Information Credit Center of the People’s Republic of China, by the end of 2018, Chinese citizens faced bans on buying air tickets 17.5 million times and 5.5 million times for train tickets. 128 people were banned from traveling abroad due to a low rating.

The social trust rating is primarily a system of personal accounting of 1.4 billion Chinese citizens. Everyone has a profile in the database that combines information from all areas of life: from bank loans and salaries to shopping in stores and intimate behavior. 

Everything is positive and negative is taken into account: from a noisy party that the neighbors complained about to blood donations and volunteer work. A general rating scale is adopted, but the same system is not used everywhere and the scales are different for different projects.

If a person gets caught cheating in an online game — they will be denied access to online games. If a man made up stories about himself on a dating site, and a woman exposed him at the first meeting, he would no longer be allowed to use the site.

Those who find themselves at the bottom of the evaluation scale may be deprived of the right to travel abroad, receive loans, study at a university, or enter public positions. This is only a small part of the list of hardships that await people with a low social trust rating.

And the opposite is also true. Citizens with a high rating receive the best hotel rooms, access to VIP halls at airports, loans at a low interest rate, benefits for admission to universities, vouchers to resort spas, high-quality medical care, and privileges for employment.

What is Hong Kong’s data protection law? Read the article and know more.

China surveillance issue

China surveillance of citizens is carried out with the help of the latest equipment. It is not for nothing that China strives to become one of the world leaders in artificial intelligence and machine learning. The cameras are equipped with modules for face recognition, body scanning, and tracking people by GPS. The republic needs high technologies to continuously, promptly, and qualitatively analyze video recordings made during the observation of the population.

China surveillance issue

Another source of data about people is mobile apps. They collect information about users, which perhaps does not contain any sedition, but after analysis it literally “exposes” a person. Applications “tell” how users spend their time, how much they earn and where they spend money, with whom they communicate, what games and books they like — and this is only a small, relatively innocent part.

The third data source is traffic analyzers (Wi-Fi sniffers). In the 1990s, it was a favorite tool of hackers who “caught” user usernames and passwords. Then sniffers began to be used for good purposes — to detect computer viruses and various errors.

Traffic analyzers’ specificity consists of processing a small (especially by today’s standards) amount of information and almost “manually.” So sniffers are used to search for specific keywords (for example, surnames).

The fourth source of information about people is big data from the archives of state services. The education system, health care, civil status records, penalty receipts for traffic violations, police files, bank documents — all this contains a lot of information about each person, which simply cannot be processed yet due to the titanic volume and is waiting in the wings. It will come when blockchain technology develops powerfully enough to become a tool of Big Brother.

This project is the most ambitious thing that has happened in social engineering in the entire history of humanity.

Our data on the internet is the new gas and oil. You should protect it carefully.

Which companies exercise control?

Information about individuals in China is collected by eight private companies that cooperate with the state (without this, it would be impossible). The most famous of them is Sesame Credit, the “subsidiary enterprises” of the famous Alibaba. Its estimates of citizens’ solvency are based on the analysis of several factors, including the payment of taxes, the purchase of travel tickets for different types of transport, and online shopping.

The company analyzes not only the numbers — it looks at the person behind them. For example, suppose you constantly buy video games. In that case, you will be considered inclined to idleness. On the other hand, if you buy dietary supplements and gym subscriptions — honor and praise to you, your rating increases.

China surveillance companies control

The data collected by Sesame Credit has already found commercial use, and it is not only used to assess customers’ solvency when providing installment plans, loans, unsecured rent, etc. For example, users of the most popular Baihe dating service in China are judged by these scores. About 15% of users voluntarily posted credit rating points in their profile — as they say, “instead of a thousand words.” An anonymous survey showed that a high rating is associated with a person’s reliability, not only in financial matters but also life in general.

The Sesame Credit website states that the company collects user data only for commercial purposes without sharing it with the authorities. But in China, there really are no companies that would not transfer data to the authorities — they would not be allowed to operate.

In another system — AliPay — users with a good rating can take out a loan of up to 600 thousand yuan ($70,000) at 5.5% per annum without certificates and collateral. The application for it is submitted directly through the mobile bank. Since no checks and confirmations are required, the application is processed in a matter of minutes, and the amount of the approved loan is displayed in the app on the client’s smartphone.

Sovereign Internet

China has been working on the “sovereignization” of the internet since the very beginning in the 90s. And they have succeeded. Now the World Wide Web in this country is controlled by the authorities. The system works like this:

1. Physical control of traffic at the nodal points at the entrance to the country — the “Great Chinese Firewall” system. The system was created in 1998 and started working at full capacity in 2003. All unwanted traffic is blocked at the entrance through filtering by keywords and IP or delisted URLs.

2. Hardware and software control at the DNS address level. At this level, access to individual sites is controlled.

3. Manual control. Internet traffic is viewed by “internet organization inspectors.”

China sovereign internet

The Chinese authorities control all, or almost all, social networks. Since July 2015, Telegram has been blocked in the country. The reasons for the blocking, voiced in various publications, were the company’s refusal to provide the Chinese authorities and special services with user data and communications of human rights defenders who the Communist Party considers a threat. On March 31, 2018, an official ban on virtual private networks (VPNs) came into force in China.

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and many messengers, such as WhatsApp, are blocked in China. Almost all major foreign social networks and information resources are blocked. There is no “Wikipedia” in the usual sense. In addition, Google and its services are blocked.

The pros and cons of social media censorship are listed here.

George Orwell wrote the novel “1984” about total surveillance half a century ago. Today, the book is more relevant than ever in China. But the reality is even scarier than the book.

In today’s reality, fans of the writer’s talent have created The 1984 Group — a voluntary team of enthusiastic IT developers who oppose total internet surveillance. Instead, they have created a unique, anonymous, decentralized Utopia P2P ecosystem that provides a secure and confidential online experience for messaging, file sharing, online surfing, financial transactions, and more.

Read the article to know more about the Utopia P2P ecosystem.


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