China’s surveillance state proves that the idea of ​​privacy is “more malleable” than you might expect

“They could have saved millions of lives using those technologies,” he said, “and as a result [the necessity of] state surveillance of many Chinese. “

Does “good” surveillance technology exist?

Once someone (or some entity) starts using surveillance technology, the road down is extremely slippery: no matter how noble the motivation for developing and implementing it, the technology is always available. could be used for more evil purposes. For Chin and Lin, China shows how the “good” and “bad” uses of surveillance technology go hand in hand.

They report extensively on how a surveillance system in Hangzhou, the home city of Alibaba, Hikvision, Dahua and many other tech companies, is built on the benevolent premise of improving city management. city. Here, with a dense network of cameras on the streets and a cloud-based “city brain” that processes data and gives commands, a “smart city” system is being used to monitor disasters. and enable quick emergency response. In one notable example, the authors speak to a man who accompanied his mother to the hospital in an ambulance in 2019 after she nearly drowned. The city was able to turn on all the traffic lights on their roads to reduce the time it takes to get to the hospital. There’s no arguing this isn’t a good use of technology.

But at the same time, it has reached a point where “smart city” technologies are virtually indistinguishable from “safe city” technologies, which aim to strengthen the police force and track down criminals. alleged offender. Surveillance company Hikvisionpart of powering the life-saving system in Hangzhou, the same system that facilitated the mass detention of the Muslim minority in Xinjiang.

China is not the only country where police are relying on an increasing number of cameras. Chin and Lin highlight how police in New York City have used and abused cameras to build databases of facial recognition and identify suspects, sometimes with legally questionable tactics physical. (MIT Technology Review also reported earlier this year how police in Minnesota built a database for surveys.) objector and journalist.)

Chin argues that with this track record, the technology itself can no longer be considered neutral. “The nature of certain technologies allows them to have harmful uses. Especially with AI applied to surveillance, they give themselves arbitrary results,” he said. And just like nuclear researchers, for example, scientists and engineers in these fields should be more careful about the technology’s potential harm.

It is still possible to disrupt the global supply chain of surveillance technology

There is a sense of pessimism when it comes to how surveillance technology will develop in China, because invasive deployments have become so pervasive that it is hard to imagine the country reversing course. .

But that doesn’t mean everyone should give up. Chin and Lin argue that an important way to intervene is to sever the global supply chain of surveillance technology (a network of MIT Technology Review Written about last month).


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