China Has the Most Surveilled Population in the World, UK Study Says

July 28, 2020 Updated: July 29, 2020

Big brother is watching the Chinese a lot more than the other nations, with a recent analysis showing that Chinese cities account for 18 of the 20 most-surveilled cities in the world.

British tech comparison company Comparitech compiled the numbers of public CCTV cameras in the 150 most-populated cities in the world based on government reports, police websites, and news articles, and ranked them by number of cameras per 1,000 people.

Based on available data, 18 of the 20 most-surveilled cities are in China, the other two being London and the Indian city of Hyderabad.

The northern Chinese city of Taiyuan has 119.57 cameras per 1,000 people, the highest ratio in the world and more than twice Beijing’s number, which has 56.2 cameras per 1,000 people. Beijing ranked fifth in the world.

Chart Top 50 Most-Surveilled Cities

Britain’s capital London has 67.47 cameras per 1,000 people, ranking at number three. However, figures obtained from London may include private CCTV, such as those in hotels.

Among the 50 most-surveilled cities, 34 are from Mainland China. Hong Kong has 6.62 cameras per 1,000 people, ranking 43rd in the world.

Meanwhile, Tokyo, the most populated city in the world, has only 1.06 public CCTV cameras per 1,ooo people.

Data from 26 cities are incomplete or unavailable, including four from China, four from Nigeria, three from India, and Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.

“China is the largest video surveillance market by some distance; it is also rapidly transitioning to cloud video surveillance architecture,” a 2019 report (pdf) by IHS Markit stated.

IHS’s report last year showed that China accounted for 54 percent of the surveillance cameras in the world. By 2021, there will be 1.107 billion cameras around the world, with 567 million in China.

One of the benefits of public surveillance, many would argue, is the prevention of crime. However, Comparitech found that “a higher number of cameras just barely correlates with a lower crime index.”

Paul Bischoff, tech writer, privacy advocate, and VPN expert at Comparitech, concluded, “Broadly speaking, more cameras doesn’t necessarily reduce crime rates.”

Digital Prison

In September 2017, the state-run Chinese Central Television (CCTV) program “Glorious China” boasted how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had built the world’s largest surveillance network with millions of cameras in a system with interconnected artificial intelligence (AI) and big data.

The BBC’s John Sudworth got a demonstration of how this “Skynet Project” works. Police took a picture of Sudworth in a control room in the southern city of Guiyang. He then drove to another location to see how long it would take for the police to find him. The experiment only took 7 minutes.

Yin Jun from Dahua Technology, which sold millions of facial recognition cameras, told the BBC: “We can match every face with an ID card, and trace all your movements back one week in time. We can match your face with your car, match you with your relatives and the people you’re in touch with. With enough cameras, we can know who you frequently meet.”

Pippa Malmgren, a U.S. policy analyst, described in a 2018 YouTube interview how the CCP could use the facial recognition technology developed by companies such as SenseTime to trap people in “digital prisons.”

“If you jaywalk, it clocks that you’ve done it because the cameras are ubiquitous now. So the facial recognition is incredibly strong. … Next thing you know, you pick your mobile phone up and the fine for having jaywalked is already in your text messages, if not already deducted from your bank account. And your name and/or your government number is already broadcast on the OLED screen that’s above the intersection, the nearest intersection.”

Malmgren said that if you are associated with someone who, for instance, “Google stuff that they don’t want you looking at,” your social credit score will also go down.

“Because Mao always said that the best eyes and watchers is not the government, it’s to get everybody to report on each other. … The Stasi would love this system,” Malmgren said.

Citing the example of how a dissenter’s wife couldn’t go beyond a few blocks from her home without the police showing up, Malmgren said, “They are putting you into digital prisons.”

He Jian contributed to this report.