We recenty read Robin Barnwell and Gesbeen Mohammad’s article in the Sunday Times, ‘Bar codes and cameras track China’s lab rats’ (14 July 2019), and also watched ITV’s ‘Inside China’s Digital Gulag’, based on the same topic, and wanted to share some of their findings with our readers. As stated in the article: ‘China has harnessed artificial intelligence to power the most complete surveillance state in history’.
s reported by Robin Barnwell and Gesbeen Mohammed, 7.2 billion dollars worth of techno-security has been invested into Kashgar, China, in order to conduct routine surveillance on Muslim Uighur people based in the city. It is envisaged that ‘once fully tested and advanced, this system of governance will enable authoritarian regimes worldwide to control their citizens to a terrifying degree, and that technology could also threaten our freedom in the liberal west.’
The types of surveillance currently being used by the state include bar coded houses, government apps, biometric data, such as DNA, blood type, voice and facial recordings, CCTV programmed to recognise objects, faces and number plate and checkpoints equipped with metal detectors and facial recognition or iris-scan machines.
This type of mass intrusion by the State into our personal lives would be considered by the vast majority of right-minded people to be contradictory to our human rights, and certainly within Europe would be in conflict with data protection legislation.
It is being described an an experiment to control a population. In 2017, Uighurs were forced by the Chinese state to provide their biometric data, which enabled this type of surveillance to become a reality. Greg Walton, a leading cyber-security expert on China, describes Kashgar in the Sunday Times as a giant human laboratory ‘where cutting-edge Chinese tech companies can demonstrate the capacities of their AI-driven systems to control a population. There’s an emerging ecosystem of apps being developed by the police in Xinjiang, all of which lead to a level of intrusiveness into everyday life that is unprecedented. I think we would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the world where the combination of cutting-edge technology and brutal policing methods exists. This has global implications because what we’re using in Xinjiang is the early stages of a new form of governance that is controlled through advanced predictive algorithmic surveillance networks. [If] those systems [were] exported, that would be a massive setback to the cause of human freedom, to liberal democracy around the world.’
Whilst some people are of the opinion that data protection legislation is only another layer of red-tape, this is a real life, albeit extreme, example of why data subjects’ rights, which the legislation is in place to protect, are so valuable and could be severely harmed in the absence of legally enforceable protection.