China’s All-Seeing Eye

all-seeing-eye

With the help of U.S. defense contractors, China is building the prototype for a high-tech police state. It is ready for export.

Rolling Stone | May 29, 2008

The workers at FSAN don’t just make surveillance cameras; they are constantly watched by them. While they work, the silent eyes of rotating lenses capture their every move. When they leave work and board buses, they are filmed again. When they walk to their dormitories, the streets are lined with what look like newly installed streetlamps, their white poles curving toward the sidewalk with black domes at the ends. Inside the domes are high-resolution cameras, the same kind the workers produce at FSAN. Some blocks have three or four, one every few yards. One Shenzhen-based company, China Security & Surveillance Technology, has developed software to enable the cameras to alert police when an unusual number of people begin to gather at any given location.

by NAOMI KLEIN

Thirty years ago, the city of Shenzhen didn’t exist. Back in those days, it was a string of small fishing villages and collectively run rice paddies, a place of rutted dirt roads and traditional temples. That was before the Communist Party chose it — thanks to its location close to Hong Kong’s port — to be China’s first “special economic zone,” one of only four areas where capitalism would be permitted on a trial basis. The theory behind the experiment was that the “real” China would keep its socialist soul intact while profiting from the private-sector jobs and industrial development created in Shenzhen. The result was a city of pure commerce, undiluted by history or rooted culture — the crack cocaine of capitalism. It was a force so addictive to investors that the Shenzhen experiment quickly expanded, swallowing not just the surrounding Pearl River Delta, which now houses roughly 100,000 factories, but much of the rest of the country as well.

Today, Shenzhen is a city of 12.4 million people, and there is a good chance that at least half of everything you own was made here: iPods, laptops, sneakers, flatscreen TVs, cellphones, jeans, maybe your desk chair, possibly your car and almost certainly your printer. Hundreds of luxury condominiums tower over the city; many are more than 40 stories high, topped with three-story penthouses. Newer neighborhoods like Keji Yuan are packed with ostentatiously modern corporate campuses and decadent shopping malls. Rem Koolhaas, Prada’s favorite architect, is building a stock exchange in Shenzhen that looks like it floats — a design intended, he says, to “suggest and illustrate the process of the market.” A still-under-construction superlight subway will soon connect it all at high speed; every car has multiple TV screens broadcasting over a Wi-Fi network. At night, the entire city lights up like a pimped-out Hummer, with each five-star hotel and office tower competing over who can put on the best light show.

Many of the big American players have set up shop in Shenzhen, but they look singularly unimpressive next to their Chinese competitors. The research complex for China’s telecom giant Huawei, for instance, is so large that it has its own highway exit, while its workers ride home on their own bus line. Pressed up against Shenzhen’s disco shopping centers, Wal-Mart superstores — of which there are nine in the city — look like dreary corner stores. (China almost seems to be mocking us: “You call that a superstore?”) McDonald’s and KFC appear every few blocks, but they seem almost retro next to the Real Kung Fu fast-food chain, whose mascot is a stylized Bruce Lee.

American commentators like CNN’s Jack Cafferty dismiss the Chinese as “the same bunch of goons and thugs they’ve been for the last 50 years.” But nobody told the people of Shenzhen, who are busily putting on a 24-hour-a-day show called “America” — a pirated version of the original, only with flashier design, higher profits and less complaining. This has not happened by accident. China today, epitomized by Shenzhen’s transition from mud to megacity in 30 years, represents a new way to organize society. Sometimes called “market Stalinism,” it is a potent hybrid of the most powerful political tools of authoritarian communism — central planning, merciless repression, constant surveillance — harnessed to advance the goals of global capitalism.

China is the “Model State” for the United Nations and the Masonic Illuminati

Now, as China prepares to showcase its economic advances during the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, Shenzhen is once again serving as a laboratory, a testing ground for the next phase of this vast social experiment. Over the past two years, some 200,000 surveillance cameras have been installed throughout the city. Many are in public spaces, disguised as lampposts. The closed-circuit TV cameras will soon be connected to a single, nationwide network, an all-seeing system that will be capable of tracking and identifying anyone who comes within its range — a project driven in part by U.S. technology and investment. Over the next three years, Chinese security executives predict they will install as many as 2 million CCTVs in Shenzhen, which would make it the most watched city in the world. (Security-crazy London boasts only half a million surveillance cameras.)

The security cameras are just one part of a much broader high-tech surveillance and censorship program known in China as “Golden Shield.” The end goal is to use the latest people-tracking technology — thoughtfully supplied by American giants like IBM, Honeywell and General Electric — to create an airtight consumer cocoon: a place where Visa cards, Adidas sneakers, China Mobile cellphones, McDonald’s Happy Meals, Tsingtao beer and UPS delivery (to name just a few of the official sponsors of the Beijing Olympics) can be enjoyed under the unblinking eye of the state, without the threat of democracy breaking out. With political unrest on the rise across China, the government hopes to use the surveillance shield to identify and counteract dissent before it explodes into a mass movement like the one that grabbed the world’s attention at Tiananmen Square.

Remember how we’ve always been told that free markets and free people go hand in hand? That was a lie. It turns out that the most efficient delivery system for capitalism is actually a communist-style police state, fortressed with American “homeland security” technologies, pumped up with “war on terror” rhetoric. And the global corporations currently earning superprofits from this social experiment are unlikely to be content if the lucrative new market remains confined to cities such as Shenzhen. Like everything else assembled in China with American parts, Police State 2.0 is ready for export to a neighborhood near you.

Zhang Yi points to an empty bracket on the dashboard of his black Honda. “It used to hold my GPS, but I leave it at home now,” he says. “It’s the crime — they are too easy to steal.” He quickly adds, “Since the surveillance cameras came in, we have seen a very dramatic decrease in crime in Shenzhen.”

After driving for an hour past hundreds of factory gates and industrial parks, we pull up to a salmon-color building that Zhang partly owns. This is the headquarters of FSAN: CCTV System. Zhang, a prototypical Shenzhen yuppie in a royal-blue button-down shirt and black-rimmed glasses, apologizes for the mess. Inside, every inch of space is lined with cardboard boxes filled with electronics parts and finished products.

Zhang opened the factory two and a half years ago, and his investment has already paid off tenfold. That kind of growth isn’t unusual in the field he has chosen: Zhang’s factory makes digital surveillance cameras, turning out 400,000 a year. Half of the cameras are shipped overseas, destined to peer from building ledges in London, Manhattan and Dubai as part of the global boom in “homeland security.” The other half stays in China, many right here in Shenzhen and in neighboring Guangzhou, another megacity of 12 million people. China’s market for surveillance cameras enjoyed revenues of $4.1 billion last year, a jump of 24 percent from 2006.

Zhang escorts me to the assembly line, where rows of young workers, most of them women, are bent over semiconductors, circuit boards, tiny cables and bulbs. At the end of each line is “quality control,” which consists of plugging the camera into a monitor and making sure that it records. We enter a showroom where Zhang and his colleagues meet with clients. The walls are lined with dozens of camera models: domes of all sizes, specializing in day and night, wet and dry, camouflaged to look like lights, camouflaged to look like smoke detectors, explosion-proof, the size of a soccer ball, the size of a ring box.

The workers at FSAN don’t just make surveillance cameras; they are constantly watched by them. While they work, the silent eyes of rotating lenses capture their every move. When they leave work and board buses, they are filmed again. When they walk to their dormitories, the streets are lined with what look like newly installed streetlamps, their white poles curving toward the sidewalk with black domes at the ends. Inside the domes are high-resolution cameras, the same kind the workers produce at FSAN. Some blocks have three or four, one every few yards. One Shenzhen-based company, China Security & Surveillance Technology, has developed software to enable the cameras to alert police when an unusual number of people begin to gather at any given location.

In 2006, the Chinese government mandated that all Internet cafes (as well as restaurants and other “entertainment” venues) install video cameras with direct feeds to their local police stations. Part of a wider surveillance project known as “Safe Cities,” the effort now encompasses 660 municipalities in China. It is the most ambitious new government program in the Pearl River Delta, and supplying it is one of the fastest-growing new markets in Shenzhen.

But the cameras that Zhang manufactures are only part of the massive experiment in population control that is under way here. “The big picture,” Zhang tells me in his office at the factory, “is integration.” That means linking cameras with other forms of surveillance: the Internet, phones, facial-recognition software and GPS monitoring.

This is how this Golden Shield will work: Chinese citizens will be watched around the clock through networked CCTV cameras and remote monitoring of computers. They will be listened to on their phone calls, monitored by digital voice-recognition technologies. Their Internet access will be aggressively limited through the country’s notorious system of online controls known as the “Great Firewall.” Their movements will be tracked through national ID cards with scannable computer chips and photos that are instantly uploaded to police databases and linked to their holder’s personal data. This is the most important element of all: linking all these tools together in a massive, searchable database of names, photos, residency information, work history and biometric data. When Golden Shield is finished, there will be a photo in those databases for every person in China: 1.3 billion faces.

Full Story

4 responses to “China’s All-Seeing Eye

  1. Pingback: China’s All-Seeing Eye

  2. Borg.

    I keep telling people when they buy from China this is what they’re really ultimately buying.

    The “DOT” cams have sprouted all over Atlanta highways these past weeks. Even the small town festival I was at last weekend had the “red light” cameras around the town square.

  3. I highly recommend readers go to the full story and read the whole thing.

  4. Just Checking

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