A police robot equipped with surveillance cameras on patrol in a commercial street of Beijing. This robot, connected to the city surveillance system can scan people within a radius of 800 m (2600 feet).
China’s police will spend an additional $30 billion in the coming years on surveillance technology, according to one expert quoted in state media.
Screen capture of a video showing facial recognition software in use, at the showroom of Megvii in Beijing.
China’s President Xi Jinping has launched a major upgrade of the Chinese surveillance state. China has become the world’s biggest market for security and surveillance technology, with analysts estimating the country will have almost 300 million cameras installed by 2020. This same year, the country plans to have a comprehensive social credit system incorporating a vast array of behavioral data, in place,
Police standing guard by Houhai Lake in Beijing.
For security, China relies on lo-tech, as well as high tech. Chinese cities use different levels of policing : community patrols run by private citizens organized at the neighborhood level, private security firms, city police, and armed police (under the authority of the People’s Liberation Army).
Screen capture of a video footage showing Sensetime crowd monitoring system. It allows to measure a crowd density (the color patches on the image), as well as the identification of "abnormal" behaviours.
A plainclothes security (right) standing guard on a commercial street in the neighbourhood of the Great Hall of the People where China's Communist Party 19th congress is taking place.
Screen capture of CCTV footage using the face recognition system Face ++, on display at the company’s showroom.
Face++ AI software allows the users to check scanned faces against a database of researched individuals in a matter of seconds. How such a system can work when the database numbers thousands if not millions of people remains to be seen. However, the Chinese police frequently boasts about arrests of criminals with the help of CCTV cameras coupled with A.I., facial recognition systems.
A Uyghur looking at a police checkpoint in the old city of Kashgar.
Xinjiang is where China’s surveillance system is the most advanced and ubiquitous. Security checkpoints are everywhere. The police regularly scans smartphones in search of “sensitive” content which includes any religious content, application allowing to bypass the Chinese internet firewall or encrypted chat application. This surveillance apparatus specifically targets the Uyghurs, the principal ethnic group of the province. Since at least 2017, Chinese police have forced Uyghurs to install the Jingwang Weishi app on their phones, allowing for remote monitoring of the phone's contents.
In 2017, security spending in Xinjiang increased by 90% to $8.52 billion, as compared to 2016.
A programmer working on a facial recognition software at Megvii headquarters in Beijing. Chinese authorities are using a vast, secret system of advanced facial recognition technology to track and control the Uighurs, a largely Muslim minority. The facial recognition technology, which is integrated into China’s rapidly expanding networks of surveillance cameras, looks exclusively for Uighurs based on their appearance and keeps records of their comings and goings for search and review. The practice makes China a pioneer in applying next-generation technology to watch its people, potentially ushering in a new era of automated racism. Megvii is one of the companies behind this racial profiling technology, according to The New York Times.
Screen capture of CCTV live footage using the face and vehicles recognition system Face ++.
The A.I. system coupled with the the CCTV camera, allows for basic descriptions of individuals and vehicles.
At a trade fair for security and surveillance equipment, in Beijing, a sign says "Our country is prosperous strengthen the police science" at a booth promoting police equipments.
At Sensetime showroom, a video shows a system allowing facial identification via surveillance cameras set up in a mall. The system allows to track an individual path through the mall. Data analysis could help mall owners to optimize the organization of the mall to maximize revenues.
Visitors to Tian An Men square having their ID scanned at a security check. The machines are equipped with cameras for facial recognition.
Receptionists at a hotel in Hangzhou are scanning the ID of guests checking in. The scanner equipped with a camera and a facial recognition software is ensuring that the guests are who they claim to be.
At a security checkpoint in Hangzhou, a pedestrian is handing his city smart ID card to a policeman equipped with a scanner. The card featuring a microchip, contains a large amount of private data allowing him to use city services (health, education,social security funds transport..etc) and bill payments. The card is also used for a city wide voluntary social credit rating system which so far has few users.
Screenshot of an app for a social credit system being implemented in Hangzhou. The user of the app has a 688 score out of 1000 points. The application is linked to the Hangzhou citizen card used for transport, bill and fines payment.
So far the system is voluntary and few in the city have enrolled.
Screen capture of CCTV live footage using the face and vehicles recognition system from
Developed by the Chinese start-up Sensetime, this A.I. system coupled with the the CCTV camera, allows for basic descriptions of individuals and vehicles.
In Xiangyang, at a crossroad equipped with monitoring cameras linked to facial recognition technology, an outdoor screen displays photos of jaywalkers alongside their name and I.D. number. The idea is to embarrass offenders into compliance.
In Yangqiao (Zhejiang) locals are playing Mah-Jong in a home where the household social credit score is displayed on the wall. The social credit system implemented in this village since 2018 is based on five criteria : cleanness and tidiness of courtyard, Observance of laws and regulations, bank credit, recycling, family values. Locals describe the system as useless and of no effect on their daily behaviour (which includes for many, gambling). However, this local experience has been hailed as a success by local and national State media and will be extended to other villages and towns in the region.
Chinese authorities have announced their wish to have a nationwide social credit system in place by 2020. However the details and feasibility of such a system are yet unclear.
Screen capture of a CCTV footage showing human recognition recognition software in use, at the showroom of Megvii in Beijing. In this case the software describes a pedestrian : short hair, black t-shirt, grey short, carrying a bag.
A security guard, equipped with a giant fork for crowd control, monitoring monitoring passers-by on Beijing pedestrian street popular with shoppers and tourists.
Volunteers from a neighbourhood security committee standing guard on a street of old Beijing. The Chinese government is using networks of civilians to help maintain order. These public security volunteers, eyes and ears of the local police, are mostly retired men and women whose main responsibility is to patrol the neighborhood and report anything suspicious. The district of Chaoyang in Beijing would have 190 000 such informant, about 1 for every 18 inhabitants.
Paramilitary police at a subway entrance in Beijing. Security in the capital has been heightened for political event. Each subway entrance has two military police standing guard on top of regular police and security staff. Overpass bridges, important crossroads also have paramilitary police.
Visitors to Tian An Men square passing by a street light holding 9 surveillance cameras.
By 2020, analysts estimate that China will have nearly 300 million cameras installed, and Chinese police will spend $30 billion on surveillance technology.
Screen capture of a video footage showing Sensetime crowd monitoring system. It allows to measure a crowd density as well as the identification of "abnormal" behaviours.
Minutes before a concert is to start at Beijing National Centre for Performing Arts, audience members are using their smartphones.
There are few laws protecting privacy in China. Online communication is constantly monitored for sensitive content. The country’s largest internet companies, and the government itself, have gathered huge amount of data on internet users. Mails and chat application are not encrypted. Private online conversations are regularly used to indict dissidents. For now there seem to be little concern in the public for the lack of privacy.
The upcoming implementation of 5G, considerably heightening the speed and volume of data transmission, thus strengthening the State surveillance apparatus will make the question of privacy even more acute.