Avid Zero Hedge readers are probably aware that the Communist Party leadership has managed to construct a surveillance apparatus in the country’s largest cities that tracks its citizens with panoptic precision. Spit your gum out on the sidewalk in Beijing, and your ‘social credit score’ – a government ‘rating’ that quantifies your obedience to laws and social customs – might take a hit.
While this system is also used for more nefarious purposes – minority Muslims in the far Western state of Xinjiang have been placed under constant surveillance as President Xi and the Party work to undermine adherence to Islam and mold the ethnic Uyghurs into obedient Communists – Beijing also uses it for more mundane purposes, like catching thieves who steal toilet paper from public restrooms.
But recently, the government triggered a rare backlash against the Chinese security state – a terrifying glimpse of how governments might leverage digital control to keep their people docile – when officials in a city in Eastern China launched a campaign to end “uncivilized behavior.”
As the New York Times tells it, this campaign was basically Rudy Giuliani’s ‘broken windows’ strategy on steroids.. And on Monday, the urban management department of Suzhou, the Chinese city of six million in Anhui Province, started the controversy by publishing photos taken by street cameras of seven young residents wearing pajamas in public.
Along with the photos, police published the names of the offenders, government ID numbers and locations where the “uncivilized behavior” took place. But residents responded that the young residents were simply being kids, and many criticized the police for their overzealousness.
According to the NYT, the backlash was a rare moment of resistance from a population that has seemingly accepted their totalitarian rulers.
Earlier, a government post on WeChat laid out the reasoning for shaming the pajama-wearers.
“Uncivilized behavior refers to when people behave and act in ways that violate public order because they lack public morals,” read a post on WeChat, a common social messaging app, which has since been deleted.
“Many people think that this is a small problem and not a big deal,” the post said. “Others believe public places are truly ‘public,’ where there is no blame, no supervision and no public pressure.”
“This has brought about a kind of complacent, undisciplined mind set,” it concluded.
While the use of facial recognition technology in security cameras remains taboo around the world, in China, it’s widely accepted. Powerful software allows the state security panopticon to quickly match offenders with their identities.
Some users of Chinese social media warned that the technology should be used cautiously.
“Facial recognition technology should be used with caution,” a user named Xiu Li De Xiao Wo wrote on Sina Weibo, a popular microblogging platform. “They should really be restricting access.”
The Suzhou ban on pajamas in public isn’t the first time Chinese authorities tried to crack down on unacceptable dress codes. Police have also cracked down on the “Beijing bikini,” a look where men roll up their shirts and bare their belly during the hot summer months.
While the debate over facial recognition tech can be light-hearted at times, reports about advances in video-tracking technology have raised fears about the government or private companies engaging in this level of extreme monitoring in the US. Last weekend, the New York Times published a blockbuster story about ClearView, a company that had invented a facial-recognition technology on par with anything used in China.
Then again, with such advanced surveillance tech at their disposal, we’re certain the Chinese authorities would have no problem identifying the source of the coronavirus outbreak, not to mention tracking all of those who might have been exposed. Though if this were true, how come so many infected victims were allowed to leave the country?