In China, the symptom of social control
In 2014, a year after taking office, Xi Jinping wondered why Emperor Kangxi’s (1654-1722) fascination with science, which had prompted him to invite missionaries to teach astronomy, mathematics or zoology, had not turned into a new stage of innovation for China, promoting development. “Scientific and technological achievements can only produce real value and promote development by joining together with the demands of the country, the demands of the people and the needs of the market, and realizing the triple leap from research to application passing through experimentation”, he professed at the time.
Since then, new technologies have been designed as a reinforcement to the system. From 5G to undersea cables, blockchain and facial recognition, Xi Jinping has given a boost to the transformation of the way of development. During this period, start-ups like SenseTime sold their know-how in facial recognition to Huawei, Japanese Honda, but also to Chinese police services. Initially designed to identify wanted people, the technology has experienced a new boom thanks to the Covid. A panoply of tools that are difficult to circumvent by the Chinese who have been demonstrating, since last weekend, against the “zero Covid” strategy, surveillance and confinement.
The collection of personal data has become commonplace
Confined for two months, Shanghai has thus spent 7 billion euros to equip itself with 2 million « digital sentinels », intelligent terminals capable not only of checking identities thanks to facial recognition, but also the temperature, the code health, vaccination record, PCR tests and recent trips, therefore to authorize access to public places. In Hong Kong, people under quarantine were fitted with a wristband to ensure they remained confined. If the device moved more than 20 meters from the mobile or was damaged, offenders risked six months in prison and a fine of 4,500 euros.
In the flow of passengers in the Beijing subway, infrared scanners developed by Megvii are able to analyze the temperature of travelers from more than three meters away. Elsewhere, robots equipped with cameras call pedestrians to order without masks. If their temperature is higher than normal, they transmit the data directly to the police. “White guards” in overalls – a medical version of the Maoist red guards – finally provide surveillance, sometimes in a muscular way, and ensure compliance with the rules.
On the pretext of ensuring the “safety (of) fellow citizens”in the words of Cai Qi, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Beijing, and to control the spread of the virus, social control and, thereby, the collection of personal data and the restriction of freedoms have become commonplace. “Questions are emerging about how these surveillance tools, employed to address this public health crisis, could be deployed more broadly, for more repressive purposes, and threaten the right to privacy and freedom of expression. »noted Amnesty International in 2020.
The information collected has on several occasions made it possible to restrict the movements of certain troublesome citizens. In July, small savers who wanted to demonstrate against the blocking of their savings by Henan banks saw their health QR code, developed by WeChat or Alipay and which allows circulation, suddenly turn red, forcing them to respect a strict isolation. These health codes, which also collect location data, are connected to police servers, which can thus track movements in real time. Eighty countries, on all continents, would already have recourse to Chinese technology to modernize their own surveillance system. Some of them were able to benefit from training provided directly by the Chinese authorities.
There is nothing to indicate, once the pandemic has passed, that the use of these tools will be regulated or subject to criteria of respect for privacy and freedoms. The balance is tenuous for power, even as the society, which is under extreme control, is crossed by tensions, including social ones, which seek expression, as evidenced by the recent demonstrations of anger throughout the territory. .