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The Total Surveillance Society?

January 25, 2011

Advanced visual surveillance has become prevalent in most developed nations but, being restricted by inconvenient things like democracy and accountability (even if they are not as strong as some would like) and police and local authority funding, such surveillance remains patchy even where it is widespread.

The Chinese state, however, suffers from none of these inconvenient restrictions. Free from democracy, accountability, and with a buoyant economy still largely connected to the Communist Party, it is able to put in place surveillance systems beyond the wildest dreams of the most paranoid western administrators. The target of the new wave of surveillance is internal political unrest, particularly in separatist Tibetan Buddhist and Muslim areas of the massive nation.

Associated Press is reporting official internal announcements about how Urumqi, capital of the Uighur Muslim area of Xinjiang, which saw extensive anti-government protests last year, will be blanketed by surveillance systems. According to the report:

  • 40,000 high-definition surveillance cameras with riot-proof protective shells have already been installed in the region, with 17,000 in Urumqi itself
  • 3,400 buses, 4,400 streets, 270 schools and 100 shopping malls are already covered
  • the aim is for surveillance to be “seamless”, with no blind spots in sensitive areas of the city (and this includes in particular, religious sites)
  • 5,000 new police officers have been recruited

This is part of a wider ‘Safe City’ strategy – in this context, even more of a euphemistic description that the same words would be in the west – that will see 10 million cameras being installed across the country. Ths numbers keep growing all the time: the last time that I reported on this, the estimate was less than 3 million ! IMS Consultants last year estimated that the Chinese video surveillance market was $1.4 billion in 2009, and that this will grow to over $3.5 billion by 2014. China is now the single largest market for video surveillance in the world.

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