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Big Brother in China — Via U.S. Technology

JBS| Friday Aug 17, 2007
Warren Mass

At least 20,000 police surveillance cameras are being installed along streets in the city of Shenzhen, in southern China, soon to be guided by facial recognition software from an American-financed company. For the citizens of Shenzhen, the warning "Big Brother Is Watching You" will become a fact of life.

Follow this link to the original source: "Do U.S. Companies Support Big Brother in China?"

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.
— George Orwell’s 1984

For most people, 1984 is a work of dystopian fiction. Long a staple of high school literature classes, it is something most students wrote a mandatory book report about, then forgot, its message flushed down the "memory hole," in Orwellian Newspeak.

Those who have chosen to remember the 1984 scenario, however, undoubtedly have become more and more alarmed at how prophetic, in retrospect, Orwell's work, published in 1949, has become. This is true not only in communist dictatorships like China, where one would expect such omnipresent surveillance, but also in the supposedly free West. In fact, the latest ABCNews.com story about this event (to which we have linked) included a statement from China Public Security Technology — the company providing the surveillance system in Shenzhen — insisting that the Chinese network is "comparable to those systems employed in places like the U.S. and the United Kingdom."

The network of cameras, combined with a planned electronic identity card, will allow police to track the movements of political and religious dissidents. Michael Lin, the vice president of the Shenzhen-based company (which has offices in California, and was incorporated in Florida) that is providing the technology, was quoted in the New York Times as warning:

If they do not get the permanent card, they cannot live here, they cannot get government benefits, and that is a way for the government to control the population in the future.

Mr. Lin does not see the Chinese network as being uniquely Chinese, however. As he emailed ABCNews.com:

Like other developed countries, cities in China need to adapt latest technology to help them achieve the goal of serving and protecting their citizens, A case in point is the controversial policy and deployment of fingerprint and picture collection of all visitors that come to [the] United States after the 9/11 event.

While anyone knowledgeable about communist control of communications would take any statement originating in mainland China with a grain of salt, the comparison to U.S. post-9/11 surveillance may have more validity than we would like to admit. Recall that the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act lengthened the list of crimes deemed terrorist acts and expanded federal wiretapping and surveillance authority.

A quote in the article from Nicholas Bequelin, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch, may be as ominous for Americans as it is for Chinese: "This technology can effectively help carry out political oppression by identifying political or religious dissidents. The state can monitor and prevent legitimate forms of dissent, like public assembly, just by putting up cameras."

Amidst this controversy, Congress is still investigating violations of a U.S. law that prohibits American companies from exporting to China "any crime control or detection instruments or equipment." One company accused of such violations has been Yahoo!, which in 2005 turned over the IP address of dissident journalist Shi Tao to the Chinese authorities, after which Shi was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Representative Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, recently said his committee plans to continue investigations into Yahoo!, including possible perjury by the company's representatives in testimony before the committee.

Representative Lantos also expressed dismay about the role of U.S. companies in helping Shenzhen set up its spy cameras: "I am very concerned about any form of repression in China, especially as the Olympics approach. U.S. companies have a responsibility to make sure their goods are not used to violate the human rights of Chinese citizens."

We should be concerned about the possibility of any U.S. company helping the totalitarian Chinese regime oppress its people. But we should not be surprised that our government may be lax in monitoring such activity, for several reasons. Among these are:

  • The communists took control of China in the first place because U.S. government officials did everything possible to help them, while selling out the anti-Communist government of Chiang Kai-shek. At the Yalta Conference, President Roosevelt agreed to give the Soviet Union effective control of Manchuria. After the Soviets accepted the surrender of the one-million-man Japanese army there, they turned over all of the Japanese arms and ammunition to the Communist forces of Mao Tse-tung. Our government then forced cease-fires upon Chiang when he was making military progress, insisted that Chiang form a coalition government with the Communists, and imposed a ten-month embargo on the sale or shipment of arms to Chiang. General George Marshall later boasted: "As Chief of Staff I armed 39 anti-Communist divisions; now with a stroke of the pen I disarm them."
  • Years later, President Richard Nixon sold out the free Chinese government on Taiwan, as we refused to use our influence to prevent its expulsion from the UN in 1971, and its replacement in that world body by communist China. The following year, Nixon lent legitimacy to the communist regime when he visited China and held lengthy talks with the mass murderers Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai.
  • President Jimmy Carter terminated diplomatic relations with Taiwan on the last day of 1978 and established diplomatic relations with the PRC on the first day of 1979, formally recognizing the communist regime as the legitimate government of China and opening up cultural exchanges.
  • Then there is President Bill Clinton's "Chinagate." After taking millions of dollars in campaign contributions traceable to Chinese donors, Clinton arranged for the relaxation of export controls allowing shipments to China of such militarily sensitive items as entire missile and bomber factories, supercomputers, and technology that enabled China's military aircraft to be serviceable thousands of hours longer than they previously had. According to a secret Clinton administration proposal outlined in a classified memorandum obtained by the Washington Times , the Clinton administration offered China "access to advanced missile technology" and "space launch cooperation."

With the example set by successive U.S. presidential administrations both Democrats and Republicans of helping the Chinese communists obtain power and remain in power, why should we be surprised when American corporations decide that providing technology to the slave masters is good business?

Our government and business leaders alike would be well to remember the quote attributed to Karl Marx:
"The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope."


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