Skynet surveillance system in China: Friend or foe?

Skynet surveillance system in China: Friend or foe?

Horace C. White 

Modern Tokyo Times 

China’s Skynet places all of its citizens under surveillance 

In an effort to build a perfectly controlled society, China has developed a surveillance system that will monitor everyone living in the country. According to the Chinese authorities, Skynet surveillance system will help the government step up crime control mechanisms in China. To this end, China has deployed millions of CCTV cameras across its major cities for round-the-clock monitoring of everyday activity.

Background information

The project kicked off in 2005 with the installation of cameras across China’s capital city of Beijing. A decade later, the city was fully covered. With every nook and cranny of Beijing fully watched by the authorities, the next line of action was for the authorities to expand its coverage. Media reports say that the government will deploy 300 million CCTV cameras by 2020 to closely watch some 1.4 billion Chinese. No doubt, this is one of the Orwellian projects that sophisticated telecommunication equipment maker Huawei has pioneered in China.

With respect to the technological wizardry behind Skynet surveillance system, it offers some of the cutting-edge innovations in that space. Well, its tech tools include GPS tracking, artificial intelligence (AI), facial recognition, and a host of others. As expected, China holds that the rate of crime in the country will significantly decline in no time – thanks to the surveillance system.

The real purpose of Skynet is to formulate a  “Citizen Score”

It will be recalled that China in 2015 launched a social credit system plan called Citizen Score. The system aims to link the ID of Chinese citizens to a national database. It is noteworthy that Chinese citizens are issued a national ID from 16. Well, the ultimate goal of the Citizen Score is to score the behavior of each citizen through a social control system. With respect to how it works, every citizen has a Citizen Score. So, a citizen’s Citizen Score could take a nosedive if the person’s friend says online something the government considers inappropriate about them. Similarly, the same fate can equally befall a Chinese citizen if he or she does something the government finds embarrassing.

Essentially, the Citizen Score and Skynet work hand in hand to check people’s behaviors. In its documentary, China Central Television pointed out that Skynet surveillance system could identify anyone based on race, color, gender, ethnic makeup, and other attributes. Skynet surveillance system can also help the police identify criminals through a national database query, the documentary noted.

Success recorded

By design, more often than not, people naturally hate to have the impression that they are being watched. In truth, that’s the message that China sends to her people. The government insists that the Skynet has become critical given that most times the police find it extremely difficult to stop certain crimes. The press statement cited incidents such as jaywalking and over speeding at various intersections. With this system fully implemented, defaulters will be captured on camera and prosecuted accordingly. Essentially, the Skynet surveillance system enables the local police to put up large outdoor screens that provide details of people jaywalking or over-sped. Some of the details the police usually display include people’s names, government IDs, and photos.

In defense of the project, the police reported that it has now recorded a drastic decrease in crime rates ever since the project launched. The Skynet surveillance system has compelled people to be on their best behaviors to avert appearing on the “big screen.” While the authorities consider this a step in the right direction, there is more to it than “meets the eye.”

The surveillance system is not perfect after all

The Daily Mail eulogized this project, calling it the world’s most advanced video surveillance system ever. Despite that, ordinary Chinese people are unaware that lots of these CCTV cameras malfunction at intervals. Even at that, people already have the worrisome impression that there is a camera a few meters away keeping close tabs on them. Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at Peterson Institute for International Economics, contended that people are unsure whether they are being monitored or not. Speaking with Vanity Fair, Chorzempa pointed out that the most important thing is that the reason for which the cameras were installed is being achieved. That is, that Skynet will be used to provide surveillance on Chinese citizens and everyone.  

Long-term plan and its impact

Beyond invading people’s privacy, millions of ordinary Chinese people continue to cheer at the project. Regardless of the praises Skynet has received, many in China have their reservations. However, the Chinese government says it will continue to expand the network of Skynet surveillance system until it eventually covers the entire country. Further, they assert that they will not go back on the Skynet project. Nevertheless, some outspoken experts have vehemently criticized the Skynet project, calling for caution. They argue that the Skynet surveillance system will compel people to live in “fear.” Critics say that the authoritarian government is shaping Chinese society to be one where people are paranoid all the time about their Citizen Score, which will place the Chinese, in particular, in a difficult situation. Hence, the world at large – if Skynet is expanded globally – will be under digital surveillance that relates to an Orwellian and Big Brother umbrella. This will, naturally, cause all humans to lose their right to privacy, as it relates to fundamental human rights.


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