Just a few ways China’s government is already surveilling its populace:
- Placing brainwave-detecting sensors in employees’ helmets or hats to track their emotional states
- Use facial scanning to be sure that every student is paying attention in class
- Deter jaywalking via a complicated facial scanning system that may publicly shame people, and rate them as a part of a greater social credit system
And now, we get to add yet another item to the list. Beginning next year, China will require all newly registered vehicles to be equipped with highly trackable RFID tags, the Wall Street Journal reports.
RFIDs are the same technology used to check if you’re paying highway tolls in the U.S. like EZ Pass. While that sounds innocent enough, it likely signifies that, every time a driver passes a checkpoint, the government can have that individual’s location and identifying data.
And the fact that it is obligatory won’t give anybody the possibility to opt out. If you want to drive a car in China, you’ll have to surrender info on where you’re at a certain point in time — or not drive at all (and have your face scanned on the road).
RFID chips are only able to track which automobile passes which point — a mass of vehicles won’t appear as moving blips on a GPS display at the Chinese surveillance-state HQ. Nevertheless it does mean the state will have an unprecedented degree of detail about who you’re, your car, and where you are going when you happen to pass a checkpoint.
Authorities at the Ministry of Public Security have a seemingly “simple purpose” for introducing these so-called “electronic license plates”: the government wants to track cars to ease traffic congestion and assist with public security, according to the same report in the Wall Street Journal.
Easing congestion? It is as if they are not trying to come up with good motive to track individuals anymore. Successfully monitoring traffic in a metropolis requires technology limited to radar systems and checkpoints outfitted with sensors that count the number of automobiles. Understanding traffic congestion does not require any personal info like car registration information, so clearly something a lot bigger is driving this new scheme. Like, say, near-total surveillance.
“The Chinese government has gone all out to create a real surveillance state. [There’s] social credit, and facial recognition, and internet and telecom monitoring,” James Andrew Lewis, a senior vp at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told The Verge. “It is a part of this larger effort to create complete information awareness in China for the government.”
And, as Quartz points out, the RFID program isn’t even the most intrusive of those surveillance schemes. Xinjiang province made a GPS tracking system for automobiles obligatory last year — particularly troubling, in light of targeted ethnic violence against the largely-Muslim Uyghur population residing in the province.
Identifying and tracking car movements, then, will certainly increase the state’s capability to spy on its own folks. Regardless of whether it’s in the name of public safety or simply an erosion of their individual rights, the people of China will either need to submit their data, or face the consequences. And for most, those consequences may be too dire to risk.