China's surveillance state

In "China's All-Seeing Eye," Naomi Klein explains the terrifying and banal reality of China's new surveillance state, and the way that it represents a triumph of "Homeland Security" technology swaps between the US and China:
In Guangzhou, an hour and a half by train from Shenzhen, Yao Ruoguang is preparing for a major test of his own. "It's called the 10-million-faces test," he tells me.

Yao is managing director of Pixel Solutions, a Chinese company that specializes in producing the new high-tech national ID cards, as well as selling facial-recognition software to businesses and government agencies. The test, the first phase of which is only weeks away, is being staged by the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing. The idea is to measure the effectiveness of face-recognition software in identifying police suspects. Participants will be given a series of photos, taken in a variety of situations. Their task will be to match the images to other photos of the same people in the government's massive database. Several biometrics companies, including Yao's, have been invited to compete. "We have to be able to match a face in a 10 million database in one second," Yao tells me. "We are preparing for that now."

The companies that score well will be first in line for lucrative government contracts to integrate face-recognition software into Golden Shield, using it to check for ID fraud and to discover the identities of suspects caught on surveillance cameras. Yao says the technology is almost there: "It will happen next year."

When I meet Yao at his corporate headquarters, he is feeling confident about how his company will perform in the test. His secret weapon is that he will be using facial-recognition software purchased from L-1 Identity Solutions, a major U.S. defense contractor that produces passports and biometric security systems for the U.S. government.

Link (via Schneier)

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  1. It’ll be interesting to see how the Naomi Klein bashers will try to spin this around on her. Fascists and their pawn followers (unwittingly and otherwise) just can’t stand it when anyone gets truthy on this planet.

  2. Cool! In a fearful and tyranical way.
    Time to dust off the light disruptor.

  3. More bad news for anti-government protestors in China, the police will now have the tools to pick them out of crouds with ease.

  4. Ouch!
    I’m from a happy and warm banana republic, now living in a post-sovietic country, and while reading ‘Little Brother’ I get to read this article (from Schneier’s blog)…

    ‘”If you are a law-abiding citizen, you shouldn’t be afraid,” he finally adds. “The criminals are the only ones who should be afraid.”‘ Quoting (Little Brother or the Chinese article?)

    It really gives me the chills!

    I think I will go back home and start growing bananas…

  5. Great everyone watch China! It’s a slight of hand trick, we live in the motherland of censorship and control,and we are discussing China? I gtalk with a guy in China he speaks online freely about the state and he can see all the links I send him, sure they are repressive and direct about it. We on the other hand have given up our freedoms every time ‘someone’ yells, “Look over there it’s the boogeyman!” That someone in this case is the media, and isn’t it interesting that the sum total of what gets published by our media amounts to “Look over there it’s the boogeyman!” no one wants to talk about the other hand, well people censorship is alive and well right here at home!

  6. “and the way that it represents a triumph of “Homeland Security” technology swaps between the US and China:”

  7. #7 posted by JayeRandom:

    Nice to see Klein aiming her rhetoric at an entity that actually deserves it, for once.

    Ah, but you still aim your rhetoric at her. How quaint. Such a shame all her other efforts have been aimed solely at “undeserving” innocents.

    BTW, do you have any less biased sources than the CATO institute (who worship self-fulfilling privatization & deregulation which has proven disastrous for America overall) for your derision against her? Just wondering.

  8. #8 posted by Kinnaird:

    …I gtalk with a guy in China he speaks online freely about the state and he can see all the links I send him…

    O RLY? Try sending the guy in China a link to this Boing Boing page. China blocks Boing Boing. Proxies, etc. don’t count.

  9. Ok, seriously, why don’t people break the cameras? I have a BB gun for just such a purpose. But I’m a simple man with a simple plan.

  10. From Tak’s linky

    Makers of the death vans say the vehicles and injections are a civilized alternative to the firing squad, ending the life of the condemned more quickly, clinically and safely. The switch from gunshots to injections is a sign that China “promotes human rights now,”

    It’s the same mindset as when the Bush admin points out the detainees in Gitmo have good dental care.

  11. #10, for a critical review of “Shock Doctrine” from a left-wing source, see this one from Left Business Observer (seems to be loading slow right now, here is google’s cached version). Basically the impression I get is that a lot of Klein’s reporting of awful policies and abuses by various governments and corporations is good (and that’s the main focus of the China article in this post), but her attempt to synthesize this stuff into a theoretical framework revolving around the idea of “shock” (which doesn’t really figure in the China article) is pretty questionable.

  12. I’m not sure about this facial recognition technology – remember Riya?

    (http://www.riya.com/)

    Was meant to do this and a ton of cash was spent on it. Didn’t work at all. Faces look too different with just a slight turn of the head, cloud cover, beard, makeup, glasses, shadow …

  13. @Patrick:

    Does it really have to work? If they don’t like you, they can claim some random face was you. Who could stop them?

  14. If they don’t like you, they can claim some random face was you. Who could stop them?

    This untrust in our doubleplus good dictators at Minitruth is doubleplus ungood.

  15. I actually read this article last night in the print version. I thought it was a typical Rolling Stone article, lots of fear mongering with very little evidence to back it up. It was like an episode of the X-Files. Before you start your flamethrower, let me explain. In her intro Klein says “Remember how we’ve always been told that free markets and free people go hand in hand? That was a lie.” This is a BS statement. Either the market is free in China’s capitalist’s districts and the people and the market are free of control or they aren’t and it isn’t. The two either coexist or neither exists. This is typical of the whole article. She presents an extreme Chinese position (one they have held for years incidentally) and then makes a weak attempt to put it into American context. She quotes Stephen Herrington saying “”George W. Bush would do what they are doing here in a heartbeat if he could.” George Bush would do a lot of things, that doesn’t mean he is allowed to, the Patriot Act notwithstanding. The Bush administration has the worst ratings since Nixon (who incidentally resigned due in part to his spying). Look I hate the neo-cons as much as the next guy, but this is another non statement that doesn’t go anywhere. Rolling Stone is full of these articles every month. I would appreciate a clear-eyed view of things rather than this fear mongering hide-in-your-hole BS. I think it is good to pay attention to China’s surveillance systems, but I love people who complain about the economy and then want to make laws concerning exports. I agree it’s a crap situation but as @15 points out she does good research but is terrible about making a point. Which is to bad, because I think that Klein brings up some good points, but they are overwhelmed by her sense of drama. One thing that I find intriguing about this whole situation is how China plans to control everybody. The only way they control them now is with the promise of capitalism. Eventually somebody is going to miss their iPod and KFC and they’re going to get pissed. In fact Klein notes this by saying that the Chinese uprisings have become more militant. The government can’t partially liberate people and expect them to thank you for allowing them a little freedom; eventually they want full liberation. With apologies to the Chinese people, I think it is going to be a great social experiment. Do I wish it was different, yes, but sometimes the darkest night is right before the dawn. Flame on!

  16. Melvillain @19: I’d’ve expected somebody in 21st century America would be media-savvy enough to read an article and filter out the overwhelming “sense of drama” and pick up the information content. As it seems you actually did that, was it really so overwhelming?

  17. Nelson @20 I was all set to rebuff your comments, but I realized I already had…above.

  18. A few points of clarification:

    1) Shenzhen is an hour away from GZ. Maybe Klein took an old train but the new speeds along at about 170kph through a countryside of factories and foetid ponds. It’s about 1.5 hrs to Hong Kong by the direct train.

    2) Boing Boing is easily available here in GZ without a proxy, and since I have been here it has never been blocked. Thank the FSM for that. Maybe they are fans.

    The authorities, though, are whimsical. Wikipedia is now unblocked, but who knows for how long?

    It is a repressive government, yes, but aside from the net spying, there is very little obvious surveillance in the form of cameras and such.

    The police, also, are generally ineffectual and lazy, but watch out for security guards who like many everywhere are bloated with gaseous power and will fart all over you – one didn’t want my girlfriend bringing her little dog anywhere close to the building.

  19. #20: Why should we automatically have to “be media-savvy enough to read an article and filter out the overwhelming “sense of drama” and pick up the information content”?

    What happened to journalistic integrity?

  20. What happened to journalistic integrity?

    Are you a time-traveler from the 1950s? Seriously, journalism is always slanted toward the journalist’s viewpoint. It was less obvious in the past because the dominant social and political paradigm was, well, more dominant. Politics is much more of a free-for-all than it used to be. In content for sure, but even more so in style of delivery. Much of what passes for written or televised news is now loathsome infotainment. If you have to filter the network news, why wouldn’t you expect to filter Ms. Klein?

  21. #15 posted by Jesse M. , May 22, 2008 12:32 PM

    … #10, for a critical review of “Shock Doctrine” from a left-wing source, see this one from Left Business Observer … Klein’s reporting of awful policies and abuses by various governments and corporations is good … but her attempt to synthesize this stuff into a theoretical framework revolving around the idea of “shock” (which doesn’t really figure in the China article) is pretty questionable.

    Ug, I just read that and found the article pretty wishy-washy. For instance, where he speaks of Klein’s criticisms and “caricature” of Friedman. He claims it’s less “one-dimensional” to say that although Friedman’s economics were (in many ways) wrong and vile… he DID get people to talk about the economy. LOL Well, let’s see, by that logic… I could say that while our erroneous venture into Iraq has killed scores of innocents, it HAS gotten people to talk about going into war haphazardly. Oh gawd…. It’s just another example of the ridiculous lengths the media will bend to in order to “balance” a story instead of just presenting the facts and letting the chips of truth fall where they may. It’s not telling the truth, it’s massaging the truth.

    As far as you saying the shock doctrine doesn’t figure into the China article. Please show me where in her article in question she says it does? I couldn’t find it. I’m not saying she didn’t imply somewhere, but I can’t find it.

    #19 posted by melvillain , May 22, 2008 4:10 PM

    she does good research but is terrible about making a point.

    I don’t actually agree with you on this, but I will throw this out there…

    In a country such as the USA that’s filled with a mainstream media that is GREAT at making talking points but is horrific at making research (or worse, white washes it)… is Noami so bad?

    #22 posted by indfusion:

    Boing Boing is easily available here in GZ without a proxy, and since I have been here it has never been blocked.

    It may be because of your location in Guangzhou, but from what I understand it can be pretty hit or miss. Xenu talks of how China filters Boing Boing here:

    http://www.boingboing.net/2008/03/18/xeni-on-g4s-aots-re.html

    Nonetheless, I should have said “filtered” instead of “blocked”. I stand corrected.

    It is a repressive government, yes, but aside from the net spying, there is very little obvious surveillance in the form of cameras and such.

    That situation may change drastically with Golden Shield. Are you not alarmed? Maybe that’s why China gets away with so much already? There isn’t enough alarm in the first place about human rights? Sorry if that comes off harsh, but I also say the same about the USA.

  22. Aw shit, by accident I called Xeni “Xenu” in my previous post. I need more sleep. LOL

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