Millions of cameras have sprouted throughout China, creating an Orwellian situation in which the state monitors its people wherever they go.
According to The New York Times, 7 million cameras watch the daily movements of the Chinese people, watching them in the streets, hotel lobbies, businesses, and places of worship. Experts expect that number to increase by an additional 15 million cameras by 2014.
Last year, China’s Ministry of State Security reported that police had installed 2.5 million cameras nationwide, mostly in urban public spaces, and it had asked police forces in rural areas to place cameras in the areas under their control, according to a Times story today.
China keeps tight controls over its people and requires Internet cafe users to be photographed so they can be monitored. These cameras are required to be linked to government offices.
In southern China’s Guangdong province alone, adjacent to Hong Kong, security officials have invested $1.8 billion installing 1 million cameras in cities such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen, the Times reported.
Guangdong provincial officials claim these cameras deterred 18,000 street crimes prior to the installation of all 1 million cameras.
Beijing is expected to have 470,000 cameras by the end of 2009, a representative of the Beijing Security and Protection Industry Association told the Times. Chongquing, in southwestern China, will add 200,000 cameras the 300,000 it already has by 2012.
“This is not a self-contained system of video surveillance, but one part in a much larger architecture of surveillance that includes Internet monitoring and censorship, telecommunications and law enforcement databases,” Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, wrote in an e-mail exchange with the times. “Privacy safeguards are simply nonexistent in China, making the state entirely free to mobilize this architecture for political ends.”
Bequelin believes the cameras aim to control the entire Chinese population and not just the handful of dissidents it keeps under 24-hour video surveillance, the Times reported.
China has begun using cameras in areas such as Xinjiang, in northwestern China, and Tibet, where ethnic clashes have occurred in recent years between ethnic Chinese and local indigenous populations, to keep order.
Authorities have installed 47,000 cameras in Urumqi, the largest city in western China, which was rocked last year by ethnic clashes between Xinjiang’s native Islamic Uighur population and ethnic Chinese. The riots caught Communist Party officials off guard, and China’s state news media reports there will be 60,000 by the end of this year.
The cameras’ presence has divided the Uighur and ethnic Chinese populations, with each having a different stance.
Ethnic Chinese such as Xie Gang, 42, told the Times they feel the cameras are a good thing.
“I think the whole thing was probably triggered by the incident last July,” the Times quoted Xie Gang as saying. “But the significance of the cameras is not to crack down on the rioters, but to prevent crimes. If something happens, the message will get to the authorities right away.”
The region’s Uighurs have a more cynical take on China’s zeal to monitor their every move on Urumqui’s streets.
“Oh, the security is very, very good here,” an unidentified Uighur sarcastically told the Times, when asked about the cameras’ deterrence of crime. “You can see the police patrolling everywhere.”
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