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China Uses Technology to Track its People
China has recently announced to track every mobile phone user in Beijing, that's 17 million cellphone users in Beijing, through global positioning technology as the government claims technology will ease transport congestion. However, experts and human rights campaigners have expressed concerns and warn it could be used to control dissent. This new initiative, which translates as 'Platform for Citizen Movement Information' will be introduced as a pilot schemes for an 'information platform of real-time citizen movement' to help with traffic management; and the municipal government hopes to start the project in two parts of the capital within the first half of this year.
Li Guoguang, deputy director of the Beijing municipal science and technology commission, says, "To some degree, it can effectively increase citizens' travelling efficiency and ease traffic jams." The project would be used to tackle congestion by allowing officials to monitor the flow of people through the transport system and Chinese citizens would be able to buy the information. Though more sensitive information, such as the location of individuals would not be available.
While Beijing's roads are increasingly congested, experts believe there are plenty of other ways to assess and manage traffic. Instead they believe this project will be used for security purposes too. Wang Songlian, who is part of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network says, "I think despite the excuse of traffic control this is part of the escalation of the use of technologies to control social discontent" and points out that last year the government introduced compulsory registration for anyone buying a sim card. Wang Songlian adds, "A lot of activists have said their cell phones are already tracked by security forces. They use it to locate where people are and whether other activists are going there. For ordinary people, the government is worried about social unrest. Often there's a spark somewhere and everyone gathers and puts out information. By registering people and tracking them, it enables them to find out about particular protests and punish individuals."
Professor Chen Derong at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications says, "Certainly the use of the platform will not be limited to gathering traffic information. Officials in other areas, such as anti-terrorism and stability maintenance, will also find it useful.
Also starting soon in a port neighborhood and then spreading across Shenzhen, a city of 12.4 million people are residency cards fitted with a powerful computer technology, where the data on the chip will include not just the citizen's name and address but also work history, educational background, religion, ethnicity, police record, medical insurance status and landlord's phone number. Even personal reproductive history will be included, for enforcement of China's controversial "one child" policy. Plans are being studied to add credit histories, subway travel payments and small purchases charged to the card. A case definite case of 'big brother is watching'.
Photo Credit: maveric2003