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Do China's Surveillance Systems Cross the Line?




Using video surveillance to prevent and monitor criminal activity is a common tactic for both independent businesses and police forces all over the world. But in no country is video surveillance as present and pervasive as it is in China. The New York Times reports that China currently has about seven million cameras stationed in streets, businesses, hotels, schools, and even religious sites. It is projected that China will account for 70 percent of video surveillance equipment sales in 2014. That will amount to an increase of roughly 15 million cameras.

Human rights organizations fear that the government may misuse the cameras and that they could become a threat to people's rights to privacy. While it is estimated that only 30% of cameras are purely under government control, many cameras, like those in Internet cafes, are required to be shared with government security forces.

"Privacy safeguards are simply nonexistent in China, making the state entirely free to mobilize this architecture of surveillance for political ends," wrote Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch in an e-mail exchange.  

Those political ends include preventing political dissidentand maintaining social order. After the ethnic riots last year in Urumqi, 47,000 cameras were installed in the city's streets. The number is expected to rise to 60,000 by the end of the year.

Some citizens feel safer with the cameras present, saying that they are effective at preventing crime. Others are uncomfortable with thesurveillance, suspecting more sinister, Orwellian motives.

What do you think? Is this kind of video surveillance appropriate or is the Chinese government crossing the line?

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