What It’s Like to Live in a Surveillance State

from NYTs

Imagine that this is your daily life: While on your way to work or on an errand, every 100 meters you pass a police blockhouse. Video cameras on street corners and lamp posts recognize your face and track your movements. At multiple checkpoints, police officers scan your ID card, your irises and the contents of your phone. At the supermarket or the bank, you are scanned again, your bags are X-rayed and an officer runs a wand over your body — at least if you are from the wrong ethnic group. Members of the main group are usually waved through.

You have had to complete a survey about your ethnicity, your religious practices and your “cultural level”; about whether you have a passport, relatives or acquaintances abroad, and whether you know anyone who has ever been arrested or is a member of what the state calls a “special population.”

This personal information, along with your biometric data, resides in a database tied to your ID number. The system crunches all of this into a composite score that ranks you as “safe,” “normal” or “unsafe.” Based on those categories, you may or may not be allowed to visit a museum, pass through certain neighborhoods, go to the mall, check into a hotel, rent an apartment, apply for a job or buy a train ticket. Or you may be detained to undergo re-education, like many thousands of other people.

A science-fiction dystopia? No. This is life in northwestern China today if you are Uighur.

More here.

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8 Responses to What It’s Like to Live in a Surveillance State

  1. Sapna Swayampakula February 9, 2018 at 8:32 pm #

    In Northwester China, if you are Uighur, you are scanned every step you take, whether it is to the store, the market, work, or even the train station. Your every move is watched, and you are judged whether you are safe, unsafe, or normal. If you fall under unsafe, you are to be detained to undergo re-education.
    I understand the reasons that people are protected under such high surveillance, it is important that citizens of society are living in a safe environment and neighborhood, and I understand that they feel safe in their homes. I can also, however, understand the need to want your own privacy. Too much invasion of privacy is also not good. This does not become a society anymore, it evolves into a dystopian society if anything. Yes, the safety of citizens is important but we should be aware of how far we are going. For example, in the essay, it stated that customers are scanned and ID’d after shopping for groceries. That is a little too much. I understand being ID’d when entering a complex where one lives, but being scanned for everything?
    However, I can also see how this helps the government immensely. If people’s every footsteps are being recorded and watched, it is a huge benefit to the police force when trying to catch criminals. Criminals will be ID’d and will immediately be brought forward when people realize who they are. The crime rates will most likely decrease immensely. Another factor that stands out is that it could possibly decrease the number of teenage rebellions present. If teens realize the risk factor of being caught doing things they are not supposed to, and are ID’d and scanned everywhere they go, then they will be careful, or give up their harmful actions once and for all.
    One thought that comes to my mind is, will this impact the jobs available in the government system? If people are scanned and every information about them is available, what is the need in a large number of policemen, or workers, there is hard core evidence of the person and their history.

  2. Alexis Candelora February 9, 2018 at 9:35 pm #

    This is an abuse of governmental power based on stereotypes generated based on race and ethnicity. While there may be certain statistics and facts given, these cannot be applied to the entirety of a population. It is a misuse of governmental power to keep such profiles on civilians and monitor their actions and whereabouts based on fears of potential threats. There are other precautions the government could take that would not violate privacy. It is not morally right for the government to keep such extensive records of its citizens when they haven’t evidently caused any harm to the community nor performed an illegal action. Yet, the government instead, keeps detailed records including x-rays and scans of these individuals based on aspects such as their personal relationships and passport information. To further tie this information to whether a particular individual is “safe”, “normal”, or “unsafe” is utterly ridiculous and dehumanizing as the government uses these classifications to restrict the individuals’ freedom to enjoy normal activities such as going to museums or entering certain areas.
    While these precautions seem to be for the better of the environment and the overall well-being of the population, it is an unwanted invasion on many innocent individuals attempting to lead normal lives. Furthermore, it has been the cause of various riots and uprisings against such a system. While there are cases of violence and terrorism, it is unjust to subject the entirety of a population to such invasive procedures. The government security systems even go as far as monitoring when one buys a kitchen knife. The amount of detail and technology surrounding these measures is surreal and disturbing. The government should be more concerned about protecting the entirety of the country and working on ways to prevent crime and violence nationwide rather than focusing so much time and technology on controlling and managing a select group of individuals based on nothing more than stereotypes cause by history and individual outbursts. Additionally, these individuals are condemned to being viewed in a negative light by authorities regardless of background information and criminal records collected by the government solely because of their race. For example, the article mentions how some people were arrested for “not praying enough” at a funeral. This is an abuse of power against an oppressed minority group. Furthermore, these individuals are subject to unjust sentencing to indefinite detention otherwise known as “political training centers”. The government needs to overcome the stereotypes against these individuals and focus its attention on more distressing matters. These individuals do not deserve such unjust treatment and restrictions based on aspects such as their race and ethnicity.

  3. NF February 9, 2018 at 10:54 pm #

    Across the world, Muslims are punished as a unison for the actions of a particular sect of people. As proven in the article, in China, the indigenous, Uighurs, are all punished because of the actions of one rebellious group within their people. This set group of individuals are radicals. They went to the absolute extreme to express their political perspectives. They are despised by the Chinese government for their belligerent behavior. Now, I do understand why the Chinese government might be infuriated with Uighur radicals, but not all Uighurs should be punished. Most are regular citizens living a normal life in China. They have no involvement in the acts of terror. However, in the eyes of the Chinese government they are all guilty.

    A Chinese official in Kashgar justified the cruel treatment of Uighurs with this explanation: “You can’t uproot all the weeds hidden among the crops in the field one by one — you need to spray chemicals to kill them all.” I believe this is unjust. This will only enrage innocent Uighurs, and might spark a fire that will lead to them joining radical parties. Also, they were never given a chance. They were never given a chance to prove they are similar to your typical Chinese citizen.

    When you grow up as the minority of a nation, you live with so many battles that you have to face. You feel as if everything you to do in life has to be perfect, and anything less, even if it’s satisfactory, is considered a failure. Living with these societal pressures and stereotypes, such as those of the Uighur, can be difficult. Especially, if you’re someone trying to break the stereotype and beat all odds, which I imagine many Uighurs are doing, being punished or detained is counterproductive.

    It’s time for the Chinese government to open their eyes, and acknowledge that a few Uighur individuals do not represent all Uighurs.

  4. Destiny Kearney February 9, 2018 at 10:55 pm #

    In a society of high security and proper ownership can become overwhelming. In Xinjiang, China the new leader named Chen Quanguo has taken over. Enforcing checkpoints that people must go through before they allowed to travel any further than what they already have. He has done this by using violence or the threat of cities in Israel. As an American free citizen I could not tolerate those living conditions. To be a free individual is something I take pride in and wish that everyone across the nation had the opportunity to experience. The idea of new technology would be intriguing; to know exactly who I am just by scanning my id is a fascinating intervention. Like the article stated the cost of these new products will be extremely expensive. Teaching people how to operate this machines and be a bit of a challenge also. To be a citizen in China can be a burden to live a lifestyle that you do not agree upon.
    I personally view this as a form of slavery. In history many African were treated poorly and against their wills. They were taught how to pick cotton or clean The Master’s home and just like in China these adults and children are sent to facilities to be taught political training that are called political training centers. These centers contain high walls, razor wire, floodlights and guard towers. No leader that felt like he and his people were equal would treat the people this way. Knowing that in America we have laws and regulations that protect us of these types of crimes make me appreciate the land I live in. I do not always agree with some of the political behaviors that take place in America but there is no place I would rather live. Evolution is wonderful and well needed but I think human rights is a much more needed tool.

  5. Lauren Woodward February 12, 2018 at 10:46 pm #

    In a society of radical politicians and high governmental power, excessive technological tracking and surveillance concepts take place; controlling and disrupting the lives of thousands of civilians that may seem harmful due to preexisting stereotypes. We see this take place in Northwestern China, to the people of Uighur. Every move of theirs is tracked, to the point where discrimination is not illegal and privacy is not allowed. Extensive use of technology has been taken out in order to protect natives from indigenous individuals, who seem to pose threat to the country based strictly on stereotypes.
    The processes that the government of Uighur use are invasive and nonessential to the protections of its citizens. After 9/11 in the United States, the Patriot Act was created in order to help protect and manage US citizens in case of a terrorism threat. While some still believe the Act to be invasive and against our rights, many have come around to the idea of using this action to prevent terrorism within the country. In my opinion, I see no one getting “used to” the idea of the extensive measures the Uighur government has taken to control its inhabitants that are threatening based on stereotypes. The exhaustive use of technology seems to be unnecessary and takes attention away from issues that need help country-wide. By Uighur successfully implementing these tactics into everyday life, one could only imagine this system being used in other countries.
    As complementary measures to the technology Uighur uses to keep track of individuals, citizens are not allowed to alter their appearance by any means; beards, facial coverings, etc. These substantial actions have led to thousands of Uighur people to be locked up, which will ultimately scare others into abiding by the rules subjected to them by the Uighur government. These totalitarian methods have pushed Uighur into a new age of Communism; one that no one thought could be possible in the 21st century.
    This type of society scares me to no end. Not only does Uighur using these policies make it possible for say, the United States to implement, but also this way of life can transfer to other areas of China. The reason I say this is because my sister is studying abroad in China, where my family and I worry about her day in and day out. If this type of society spreads to the area she resides in, I can’t imagine the repercussions that could occur. I find this method of “protection” to be extremely invasive and discriminatory, while also being unnecessary to the overall wellness of the state.

  6. Jessica Williams February 16, 2018 at 1:51 pm #

    The absurdity of the treatment of different ethnic groups based on stereotypes is slowly proving itself to be more and more destructive, not only the safety of these groups, but their culture and way of life as well. Unfortunatly, many people have difficulty differentiating those of a particular group from others who are more radical in their thought process. These individuals who hold the radical beliefs are often grouped in with the peaceful members because of this neglect to notice or acknowledge the differences between the groups, even if the peaceful members openly do not condone the actions of the radicals. This is the situation that Muslims face not only throughout America, but through the rest of the world as well.

    As stated in the article, under the leadership of Chen Quanguo in Xinjiang, every action of the Uighur people is monitored, as they are forced to download government spy apps on their phones, and adhere to the cultural norms of others, even if it goes against their religion. Subjecting all of the Uighur people to this kind of treatment because of the actions of a few radicals is unjust, as it prevents these individuals from becoming productive members of their society. In addition, it could also lead to a rise in violence, not from the Uighur people, but directed towards them, as the establishment of extensive security protocols could lead to a development of fear towards these people in other members of society.

    In America, especially after the events of 9/11, Muslims have dealt with and are dealing with similar issues, as they are generally treated poorly by society because of the stigma that is associated with the stereotype that all Muslims are violent and become terrorists. For example, in May of 2017, an intoxicated racist man yelled obscenities at a Muslim family at the beach, telling them that the President of the United States would “stop them,” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/muslim-family-beach-abuse-video-trump-supporter-racism-a7730911.html). Although the family did not plan to cause any harm, as they were only on the beach to relax, the fear and anger of other people because of these past instances manifested itself in this situation, as the man thought the Muslim family to be terrorists solely because they were Muslim. Instances such as this could already be starting to manifest itself in China, because of the extensive security protocols used to monitor every aspect of these individuals’ lives due to previously formed stereotypes.

  7. Damian Mioduszewski February 16, 2018 at 4:00 pm #

    Life currently in northwest china has taken a dramatic turn for the worst in order to quell riots and suppress possible terrorism. The area in northeast china is predominately Uigher a Muslim section of china which has rebelled against the Chinese government many times before. In response to the restless population the Chinese government has taken drastic measures in order to keep control over its people, nothing new to the Chinese government. In this article it talks about the government import the Han majority into the providences but most importantly the surveillance the government has introduced. The security measures that China has introduced is bizarre as the article mentions such as “Video cameras on street corners and lamp posts recognize your face and track your movements. At multiple checkpoints, police officers scan your ID card, your irises and the contents of your phone. At the supermarket or the bank, you are scanned again, your bags are X-rayed” Imagining this in an American society would just be absurd as we are entitled to a right of privacy and many would view this as an over reaching of the government. My main focus would be how this technology used to oppress the minority has the potential to have a debut in the United States. We must learn from their strategies and utilize the same advanced technology that they are using in order to improve security at sensitive sites. The United States can stand to learn from its rival but should not copy its rival due to the rights we have as American citizens. The potential for this technology is enormous as we can use this technology at major tourist attractions and spot any citizens who have been on an FBI watch list. Countless times have we heard that terrorists were once under surveillance from the FBI but still carried out terrorist attacks. With this technology we are able spot people of interest in large crowds and be able to keep a closer eye on them. There are also hundreds of cases of criminals who also jump bail and don’t appear in court effectively going on the run from law enforcement. If this happened in northwestern China that fugitive would be picked up on the massive network of CCTV cameras equipped with facial recognition technology. Many would argue that this system in America would be a massive breach of privacy but my argument against that would be, if any regular person can call the police if they see a person that appears on a wanted list then why can’t technology. I believe that America should learn from its adversary in order to help improve security and law enforcement across the country.

  8. Nicholas Marinelli February 16, 2018 at 5:26 pm #

    Facial recognition, iris scanners, fingerprint readers, QR codes on everyday items, and car trackers- all part of the new sci-fi movie called Life in China. Although it is not a real movie, the citizens in parts of China are experiencing the effects of a “movie-like” technological revolution for the worse. They literally cannot do anything without being recorded on every street corner or say anything without being heard in their own home. Certain apps on their smartphones are banned and most recently, cryptocurrency is deemed illegal in the country. Life is wholly controlled by government institutions and specialized police forces that have facilitated checkpoints and random citizen checks.
    In accordance with the surveillance, the Chinese state of Xinjiang is mostly comprised of Uighur Muslims- in which these people are particularly being ostracized by the government and having their human rights stripped from them. People should be allowed to watch a certain show, read a certain article, or talk about a certain topic- without being thrown in jail. The Chinese government does not have a fond relationship with the Uighur people and enforce strict, impeding laws on them.
    Because of their Muslim religion, they must follow strict tradition and code, however due to the surveillance of specialized forces, Uighurs are being thrown in jail and never heard from again. In a CNN article, reporter Steven Jiang wrote about the detainment education camps for the Uighurians living in Xinjiang; these people are “brainwashed”, forced to sing revolutionary songs, are exiled, and of course being watched intently by the Chinese surveillance teams (https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/02/asia/china-xinjiang-detention-camps-intl/index.html). Those who complain it is unlawful and inhumane are horrifically never heard of again- yet another reason why this sounds like a movie plot. The complete utter control of the Chinese government on its people is just not right.
    Since the Uighur people have to follow Muslim code, they are bound to certain restrictions- restrictions the Chinese government deems unlawful. In efforts to “weaken” the Islamic people, authorities have ordered the Muslim shopkeepers to sell tobacco and alcohol- both of which are completely banned by the Muslim religion (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/05/05/china-orders-muslim-shopkeepers-to-sell-alcohol-cigarettes-to-weaken-islam/?utm_term=.fbca7b0a724d) This is both sad and inhumane on the Chinese government’s part- it makes them seem like a completely terrible regime in utter and absolute control over their people.
    Even the idea of a type of caste system seems like an abuse of power on the Chinese’s part. The number and point system based on how loyal you are to the country, religion, government, and people is just not fair at all. They are forcing and brainwashing their people to be proper citizens of the state. From a Chinese government standpoint that does not have a document stating the extensive unalienable rights of citizens (such as the US), this seems quite fair; they keep their people in check, force people to follow the rules, and prevent chaos from erupting. But if you take a look at it all from an ethical standpoint in favor of human rights, it is simply unlawful, inhumane, and unethical to do such acts to citizens of your country.
    If I was living there, I would not have made it to the end of this article- which is in fact a scary

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