In China, the government watches your every move. In the rest of the world, it's your phone.
Edit: No, but wait because this is published in the Washington Post, the same Washington Post who was declaring "No Pardon for Edward Snowden" just last September . If its editors are so appalled by surveillance, as we should all certainly be, why are they not as appalled about the mass surveillance used by their own government on their own fellow citizens?
>a toilet roll dispenser at a public facility outside the Temple of Heaven in Beijing reportedly scans faces to keep people from stealing too much paper,
I have several questions:
1. Wait, am I stealing paper when I use a public restroom? Are those dispensers like the 'take a penny, leave a penny' tills?
2. Is there an acceptable amount of stealing which the facial recognition limits, or does it alert the management any time that paper is dispensed and leave the judgement to human beings?
3. There are literally cameras in the stalls?
4. How long is its memory? If it shuts me down, can I simply wait for someone else to go in before resuming my theft?
This is automation of what's already being done, but at larger scale.
My father used to do a lot of business in China. He has a lot of interesting stories, but one of my favorites is one about how he was under constant surveillance by government employees and party members.
They would monitor his movements and keep logs. He knew this because some didn't even bother keeping it discrete. He'd see the same guys over and over, and they would whip out a note pad and write things down.
Labor cost was cheap back then to do this type of low-tech surveillance.
For those who want to see the system in action, take a look at this video by a BBC correspondent - http://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-china-42297153/surveil.... In a small experiment, as soon as an alert is issued, the reporter is identified via facial recognition and apprehended within minutes as he walks through the city.
I read 1984 the book over the weekend and this is truly a disturbing news. At this point in time, I am happy that we don't have such blatant dictatorship in India and that our infra is shit, our software in government is a joke so that they won't be able to build a system like this where Big Brother is looking over everyone via the telescreen. It is scary to not have freedom of thought, expression.
There was a video posted by WSJ on how this surveillance is affecting people's life:
Is Chinese public sentiment in favor of this ever increasing surveillance? As an American, this is horrifying. But given the reports of the high levels of crime and corruption, maybe citizens feel like it’s a net benefit.
I wonder if a mass movement to wear masks, of some kind, would be enough to at least put a damper on such pervasive surveillance.
As the social pressure gets greater I hope to see more talk of freedom and democracy.
As a citizen of a country that is somewhat oppressed by our government, I think there is a lot that can be done by our tech community to democratize such technologies and put surveillance powers in the hands of people.
In the country I live in, federal and local governments are peopled by employees most of whom tend to be some combination of such "fine" words as venal, corrupt, rent-seeking, dishonest, scammy, sadistic, rude and the like.
There's probably more crimes and unethical activities being done by government employees than any other group. I think adverse effects on our society from them is much higher than people we normally term as criminals. In that sense, I think of our governments as actively adversarial and hostile to our society.
I don't have any direct experience living in other countries, but from what I read about other countries in media, blogs and discussion forums, governments that behave in adversarial hostile manner towards their own societies seem to be the norm in underdeveloped and developing countries around the world.
As an article I read recently pointed out, such governments have rules and laws to make their societies obey them and their needs, but rarely legislate laws that can balance the asymmetry of power, such as whistleblower laws, citizen information acts or independence in criminal investigations.
That's why I think there is a lot that can be done by our tech community to democratize such technologies and put surveillance powers in the hands of people. If the residents of a locality decide to track their local government employees to collect proof of unethical activities using a peer-to-peer mesh of their private cameras (for example, uncovering unethical financial activities such as misuse of taxes on unnecessary contract works), I think we should provide such software systems that are easily available for - and usable by - everybody.
The fear of adversarial surveillance can work in both directions. The same fear that governments use to curb dissidents or critics can also help curb or deter government's unethical activities when people are empowered to create that fear.
Even the most rudimentary information about technologies and procedures that can empower oppressed people is severely lacking.
For example, citizens writing and exposing government abuse is probably one of the most basic forms of democratic empowerment. Governments curtail such basic freedoms using laws that address defamation or sedition, using powers to punish such criticism through extradition and interpol agreements, and using powers to shut down such content with cooperation from providers such as ISPs, Google, FB, Twitter, or AWS.
It would be empowering to a large volume of humanity if there's a queryable up-to-date database that can answer the seemingly simple question "where and how can I safely express my opinions about my government without being shut down or being punished?" A database of web hosts and other infra around the world with all relevant information about extradition and other legal aspects between the querying user's country and the hosting country, so that every citizen in any country can express themselves without fear of being censored or punished. I searched hard for such information in the past, but couldn't find anything much.
I think such democratization can happen only if principled techs voluntarily donate time to work on them, and focus on peer-to-peer architectural principles. Tor is a good example of such democratization, but many more are needed, and some of them - like the database above, basic identity recognition, ANPR - seem to me to be low-hanging fruits that can be solved through crowdsourcing and peer-to-peer storage and processing.
Perhaps that toilet paper dispenser with facial (faecal?) recognition might be hinting at the future of retail. I can imagine people walking into supermarkets, picking their items, and then simply leaving through the doors. Stealing will occur when a face isn't attached to enough credits. Ditto for public transportation. Sounds terrible to me.
I am worried this is just the beginning.
Once control of the masses is centralized in one place, it will be too tempting to tighten the screws - or just screw around - with some or all people.
Want to make everyone dance to a new law? Easy peasy. Limit bathroom breaks? No sweat.
Even enforcement can be made more "painless" via machine learning:
Gradually, a model of people’s behavior takes shape. “Once you identify a criminal or a suspect, then you look at their connections with other people,” he said. “If another person has multiple connections, they also become suspicious.”
Simply cut off that person's credit cards and WeChat accounts etc. Anyone seen helping this person get food to eat is similarly penalized. Pretty soon the person will learn to obey the system or starve. In fact it will be a nice Pavlovian proportional response. Each infraction is punished by some limitation of your ability to transact. And voila -- a population of docile adults, perfectly conditioned by an ever more efficient system to do whatever the new laws say they should.
Just like drones make war less costly, this will make law enforcement less costly, leading to a proliferation of "easy"-to-enforce laws.
Reading the comments here, I wonder how many are aware of the use of social harmony which justifies this type of tech and why that core thesis is not identified and argued upon when compared to "more freedom is good". If this thought is too naive please point me to better reading resources
Looks like a big money grab by the companies that touts they can accurately track people
It's almost like they banned the book 1984 over there and never lived in East Germany :P
honest, good faith question: at what point do we say "no more surveillance" and start smashing cameras?
the thoughts "we are free" and "total surveillance when in public" are incompatible...
This has been on the menu for a long time. At least 3 years. Who is surprised at this?
I get all the worries about monitoring human lives, but you have to admit that from an anthropological point of view, it is absolutely priceless. If that data is ever given to scientists, we'll get to learn a lot. That really makes me think it might just be worth it.