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.

Posted in Privacy, Technology and tagged , , , , .


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. This article provides a depressing reality that exists in the world of northwestern China today. The continuous screenings here are seen as a requirement for safety and discrimination is occurring as to whom gets to pass through without being searched in certain instances. The fact that video cameras on lamp posts and street corners can track your every movement works in opposition to the basic assumptions of privacy all people should possess. Our personal and biometric data are combined in a database tied to an ID number which together forms an individuals profile. Personal, religious, and technological information are only some of the categories present when going about this practice. This information is put together to create a composite score for each individual in the population. The score received if too low can block a certain individual from completing certain daily activities such as going to the mall or on a train. The surveillance occurring is a disruption to the lives of citizens in this area and is an invasive for of what this government deems security. This is a destructive way of life as no one is safe from the government in which should be protecting them. Many individuals have attempted to rebel against this system yet it still stands and continues to take the lives of many.

    All of these practices both individually and combined are actions that I believe are an abuse of power. Although at the service these may seem like an extreme way of protecting citizens it is ultimately an unwanted and unwarranted invasion of privacy and personal security. Individuals are regularly stereotyped in unfair practices and thus are blocked from the remainder of society. They are viewed in a negative light by the government and majority and can be sentenced to prison or education in order for their society to force them to live the way they deem acceptable. Many would think that this form of a society would not exist in the 21st century that we live in yet the simple fact is that it does and that is frightening. These practices are disturbing as these treatments and practices are unfair. Although no country is perfect I am grateful and proud to be an American and receive more freedoms than those in northwestern China and other parts of the world.

  5. “You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don’t ever count on having both at once.” (Robert A. Heinlein)
    This article is a prime example of this quote. The Chinese government has deemed the Uighurs to be a threat due to some Uighurs acting out violently against the Communist controlled government. While the Communist party deems the Uighurs as a threat for separatists, extremists, and terrorists it separates the Uighurs more and more.
    This offers a peek into the threats of a unified state where a single government entity has control over everything. The invasions of privacy, the checkpoint searches, not knowing if your family will be targeted because you failed to display and insufficient “commitment to secularization”. This is nothing more than a government endorsed roundup of the Uighur.
    As an American it is easy to forget that the world does not share our freedoms and that we cherish. That in other countries there are people that are subject to the whims of the majority, with no voice to speak up with. China isn’t solving the problem their hiding it hoping they can contain it and keep it locked away using security as a convenient cover to consolidate more power.

  6. In Uighur China, the idea of personal privacy are no more. Street cameras cover every corner and they scan and recognize everyone who passes by. China is using this as an absurd way of having a high security level throughout their society. They will do things like scan eyes of citizens, scanning their bodies and personal belongings. They even started to instill checkpoints where people will be security checked before they can continue on with their travels. While this is a tactic to stop possible terrorist attacks, many view this as an oppressive move by the Chinese government on their people.
    As an American, hearing that this is happening in china is cringe worthy. I feel that everyone should have the right to privacy. It is understandable to be afraid of possible terrorist threat. Americans have lived with this fear every day since September 1st, 2001. On that day, the idea of America’s national security would forever be different. No American is naïve enough to think that our government is not spying on us. It is not to the extent of Chinas obsession with security, but we are being spied on. Our emails are being checked some phone calls being listened too, but all by government workers who are dedicated to make sure something tragic like 9/11 does not happen again. I feel like having big brother keep tabs on members of society in moderation. I would never want to be scanned as I walk down the street but I feel that having internet use be tracked in order to prevent terrorist attacks is completely acceptable.

  7. After reading about what’s happening in Uighur China is very upsetting. The fact that there are cameras every 100 meters, at multiple check points your ID card is scanned, and if your anywhere in public officers have the right to run a wand over your body. The right to privacy is literally out the window in this country. The only positive that can come out of this if your living in an anarchy government or its supposed to make your community safer. As an American this make me feel sorry for people living in China and this will totally violate the first amendment which is your freedom if this was in America. Even in America we have cameras in necessary places such as banks, public stores, or in the privacy of your home. It makes sense if it’s in necessary places such as I mentioned because it can help keep the community safe. Yes, there are unornate tragedies that are sometimes out of our control. Even today, we all live with a fear of something bad happening to us but it’s a part of life and we must move forward. This going on in China is a major issue because this can lead to pre-discrimination and officers could just assume that a citizen is a bad person even though they have never committed a crime in their life.

    Today, there are many was for people track what we have done on the internet. There are companies out there that can track what we have searched on the internet, what we have bought, and where we have been. Its breaking your rights to privacy, but its out of our control. As a result, everyone has a right to privacy and to live the life they want to live without being harassed for something they never committed.

  8. In today’s day and age, their are many different cultures, ethnicity, religion’s and many other demographics that identify individuals. Depending on location, laws are different, manners are different, everything is different. The point being no two countries are the same. Regardless of where people originate from, we are taught to accept them for who they are.To read this article and learn about what is happening in China is just unacceptable and evil. China’s use of security toward Uighurs is pure discrimination. They are simply taking away the rights of this specific Ethnic group by not allowing privacy rights. Their harsh use of security is punishing Uighurs without any justification. As mentioned in the article, Xinjiang are locking up 40 percent of the Uighur ethnic group with no reasoning.

    Technological advancements have made it easier for people to invade each others privacy. This has been a big conflict of recent, simply because privacy rights make the population feel secure and comfortable. Under specific circumstances, what may be mistaken as an invasion of privacy to some people, is instead used as a way of keeping the population safe. On the other hand, China’s use of this security system is extremely harsh and unnecessary and goes against all ethical and moral values.

  9. What China is doing with the facial recognition the populated area is creepy. I see why they have implemented it but being as though I live in China, I would not like to be followed where ever I go. The separate you into ranks of “safe,” “normal” or “unsafe” depending on the “composite score” that you get. Most of the people who are being checked throughout this process of “police officers scan your ID card,” “at the supermarket… your bags are X-rayed, and an officer runs a wand over your body” are apart of the “wrong ethnic group.” When reading this article, I can see why they have decided to implement these cameras throughout the city. They are able to reduce crimes as well as take out all the bad weeds throughout the city by “[spraying] chemicals to kill them all.” Keeping the bad people off the street and giving them all a specific ID number allows for the city to stay as crime free as possible. I do disagree with this method to the extent of “locking down an entire province and persecuting an entire ethnic group will only instill long-lasting resentment among Uighurs.” I see this almost as history repeating itself. This is another form of segregation but taken to whole new heights. There is nowhere to hide with cameras tracking your every move and a rule that states you are not allowed to cover your face with any sort of veil as well as you are not allowed to have a beard when walking the city. Not only do they give you no privacy but they do not let you be different from the rest. Basically, you are all supposed to look the same. I say that this is another form of segregation because they are creating a divide between China and the Uighurs. I fear that by creating this divide one day it will disappear, but the effects that it leaves on people will be every lasting. There are some good and evil that come with always being monitored, but I can’t say that I want America to develop this idea as well. Take NYC, for example, there is already a massive amount of cameras in the city that can see you at all times, but when people are looking at the cameras, I do not need my ID to be shown next to my face. There are already so many problems in the US, and the last thing we need is a giant uproar because the government wants to take watching their people to a whole other level.

  10. Surveillance has raised a lot of concerns about privacy issues in the advancing technology. In the article “What It’s Like to Live in a Surveillance State” by James A. Millward talks about the governorship of Chen Quanguo in Xinjiang, in which every action of the Uighur people is monitored, as they are forced to download government spy apps on their phones, and follow the cultural norms of their society, even if it goes against their religion. It seems to me the kind of steps the government has taken against these groups can be considered a form of segregation because they are creating a division between China and the Uighurs. In fact, this kind of surveillance against Uighur Muslims is also an abuse of power against an oppressed minority group. While their privacy and human rights are being stripped away, this shows how much of a misuse of governmental power there is against these civilians simply because of the whereabouts based on fears of potential threats. For China, this is kind of precaution is the best way for the overwell-being of the population. Another factor that stands out is that surveillance can 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 if they are ID’d and scanned everywhere they go, then they would be careful about any actions committed or intended to commit. Personally, I find many pros and cons with surveillance of Uighur Muslims. To begin with, many innocent individuals are being stopped from living a normal life. Every move of theirs is tracked, to the point where discrimination is not illegal, and privacy is not allowed. On the other hand, the government believes surveillance against Uighur people is not only one of the best ways to prevent crime, but it also increases the possibility to catch the individual(s) who choose to engage in a deviant act or actions. Overall, because of the surveillance placed on Uighurs, it has changed the way that Uighurs view the environment, act when out in public, and the way they should go about doing their daily tasks. Imagine if you are walking down the street, driving in your car, or hanging out, being monitored with spy apps placed in public. This creates a complete picture of the private life of an individual. We all have private life, which doesn’t want others or the government to know about. It simply stops civilians living a normal life. To continue, not all crimes are deterred by surveillance apps/cameres. This shows the leadership China has against their society, violating privacy and personal rights. There has to be another way China can take into consideration to balance public safety and personal private needs without abusing their power against an oppressed minority group. Until then, numerous challenges will continue to arise for the Uighur Muslims and will only get worse.

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