Proposal to Step up Surveillance in China Alarms Public

April 16, 2015 Updated: April 16, 2015

Move over, Big Brother. The Chinese regime has proposed a new plan to take the surveillance state to the next level: a system that would centralize personal information about citizens into an “all in one” card, logging many of their personal activities and financial information, all held in the tender clutches of the security agencies.

The system would bring together the information about every citizen that is now spread across multiple agencies and databases, linked to their existing national identification number. The data would include name, address, date of birth, also credit score and credit card information, business registrations, and, potentially more sinisterly, flight and train records, hotel bookings, and all other activities that require an identification card.

The Public Security Bureau would be the custodian of all this information.

This plan was proposed by the General Office of the Communist Party’s Central Committee and the General Office of the State Council, two high-level agencies in the Party and state apparatus, according to a Xinhua report on April 13. No timetable for implementation accompanied the report, and it’s not yet clear whether and to what extent it will be fully implemented.

Is there supervision over this monitoring? Without it, the country becomes a prison
— Chinese Internet user

The purpose of the exercise, authorities said, is part of an overall push to enforce a so-called real name registration system in the use of the Internet and cellular phones, to prevent the spread of “violent, pornographic, and other illegal information.”

Of course, these phrases are often a code word for any information that the Chinese Communist Party finds politically unwelcome.

Along with the all-seeing identification card, part of the scheme includes enhancing the density of public surveillance cameras in urban and suburban areas, “in order to strengthen the monitoring of public safety.” Chinese citizens are already wary of the surveillance powers of the Chinese state, and a boosting in cameras is not likely to allay those concerns, despite their being packaged as necessary to “curb violent terrorist crimes and individual extreme violent crimes that impact public security.”

The system will require participation from a variety of industries, including hotels, entertainment services, auto manufacturers, even those who engrave the seals that are affixed to official business letters.

Judging by commentary in response to the news on the Internet, the news has not been received well.

Zhang Yi, a well-known author in China, wrote on Sina Weibo, the equivalent of Twitter, “We are tightly controlled.”

An Internet user calling going by the name “Old fashioned vest” commented: “Is there supervision over this monitoring? Without it, the country becomes a prison. Only with supervision over this control can it be safe.”

The announcement by Xinhua did not include any information about the supervisory mechanisms that would be established over the controls of this data, and such control processes over police behavior are regularly absent in China.

The scheme in some way mirrors and builds on an idea that was rolled out in the southern city of Shenzhen in 2007, where citizens were given ID cards with computer chips that stored a battery of personal information, including their education, police record, religion, medical insurance, and the phone number of their landlords.

Whether it also incorporates the use of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology, like those chips, is unclear. That technology allows police to scan the ID cards of citizens from a distance—for example, on a handheld device, while walking through a train carriage, in order to identify known political dissidents.