China ramping up blueprint for digital totalitarian state


Chinese authorities are knitting together old and state-of-the-art technologies — phone scanners, facial-recognition cameras, face and fingerprint databases and many others — into sweeping tools for authoritarian control, according to police and private databases examined by The New York Times:

The surveillance networks fulfill a longtime goal of ensuring social stability, dating to the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising but given added urgency by the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2012. In recent years, Chinese police made use of fears of unrest to win more power and resources…

Some new claims are outlandish, such as software that claims to read emotion and criminal intent from a face. But the surveillance net that police have rolled out in Xinjiang, a region of northwestern China that is home to many predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, shows the vast potential for the rest of the country. Police have blanketed the region in cameras, phone trackers and sensor-studded checkpoints. In Urumqi, the regional capital, police sealed off 3,640 residential complexes with checkpoints and installed 18,464 sets of facial-recognition cameras…,

“The whole bureaucratic system is broken,” said Borge Bakken, a professor at Australian National University who studies China’s police. “Under Xi Jinping, we’re seeing the flowering of a police state.”

The impact of authoritarian technologies is a focus of the latest episode of the Power 3.0 podcast from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

Natalia Antelava, co-founder and editor in chief of the award-winning media start-up Coda Story, discusses innovative approaches to reporting on two dual trends—the disinformation crisis and the impact of authoritarian technologies—in an increasingly crowded and noisy global information space. Christopher Walker, NED vice president for studies and analysis, and Shanthi Kalathil, senior director of NED’s International Forum for Democratic Studies, co-host the conversation.

Could China and Russia’s models of high-tech population control and manipulation spread to other countries? The Lowy Institute’s Kelsey Munro asks Dr Alina Polyakova, the founding director of the Project on Global Democracy and Emerging Technology at the Brookings Institution, and co-author of a recent paper, “Exporting Digital Authoritarianism”, published by Brookings.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email