February 12, 2020

CREEPY: How the outbreak is testing China’s vaunted surveillance technology.

In recent years, aided by some of the world’s largest information technology companies and the rapid development of cutting-edge technology such as big data analysis and artificial intelligence, the Chinese government has built up one of the most advanced mass surveillance networks on Earth to monitor the daily activities of the country’s 1.4 billion citizens.

The network includes nationwide video surveillance systems such as Skynet, which uses more cameras than any other country.

Almost everything a citizen does nowadays, whether it is making a payment with a mobile phone in a grocery store, taking a high-speed train ride, paying a visit to hospital, sharing a photo on social media or simply walking on the pavement, leaves a trace in databases operated or supervised by the government.

At the beginning of the outbreak, the Chinese government thought these technologies could quickly help it track down suspected carriers of the disease; but the authorities soon realised that the fight against the epidemic, to quote President Xi Jinping, was a “people’s war”.

People find a way, if you’ll allow me to paraphrase Dr. Ian Malcolm.

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