The idea in a nutshell
- Surveillance technology has progressed further than most people believe.
- Your offline behavior and movements can now be tracked, without your knowledge.
- So what? Well, when considered from the point of view of innocent Australian citizens, maybe there’s no problem.
- Once you involve China in the mix, at least one real issue becomes clear.
The most advanced aspects of the technology China has are now available to Western Law enforcement officers
It’s worth noticing that while China has coordinated the use of the surveillance technology it has on its citizens, most of the components are available already to Western police forces. It’s also worth noting that the examples I gave in parts 1 and 2 were based on publicly available information. It’s likely that there are (potentially many) more advanced capabilities about which, we don’t know.
So people, including those in senior (decision making) government positions, don’t understand what’s happening. Surveillance has jumped from electronics to the real world. It seems the end point, at least in China but potentially in the rest of the world, is that each individual and vehicle will be monitored and directed by Artificial Intelligence.
Surveillance is going to get worse? So what?
The shallow end of the pool is commercial interest in Western countries. This is no different to what it’s always been. From the point of view of the brands that sell things to us, we have only ever been bank accounts with a propensity to buy their product.
Similarly, law enforcement agencies have always used information to track down criminals and, thankfully, there are reasonably robust oversight mechanisms to prevent the government from exploiting those facilities.
Your data could be hacked
Of course, once a lot of your personal information is in a database somewhere, there is always the risk of hacking. And where there is a risk of hacking, there is the potential for blackmail and extortion if people have been doing something ‘morally wrong’ (like having an affair which could be disclosed by hacked human tracking records, for example.)
It’s even worse for people living under authoritarian governments
However, there is more cause for concern where these risks increase. In countries with Authoritarian governments like China and some Arab states, these ‘new’ capabilities give amoral leaders the ability to identify those who might rise up against them and deal with them harshly. 3000 people are put to death each year in China, with a court system which convicts literally 99% of the cases it adjudicates. Those who are killed have their organs taken and sold, often to rich International visitors. But then that’s an entry all on its own.
Huawei and equivalents are good examples of a big risk
Perhaps the most extreme concerns from a practical point of view is where a couple of these capabilities overlap and national security is threatened. One good example is China’s Huawei, the global electronics manufacturer. Huawei’s owner Ren Zhengfei was a leader in the People’s Liberation Army of China. Security forces in the UK, USA and Australia have all examined the country’s products and, over time, have come to warn consumers of the potential for their equipment to be easily hacked. Huawei have been asked to fix issues in their products and haven’t done so.
Huawei is now banned in the US, UK and Australia from providing infrastructure for the new 5G networks in case it snoops on the data and uses some of the facilities I’ve described above to dissect what’s happening in Australia. The Federal government has banned them for sure, concerned China was creating a ‘surveillance network’ in the country.
On the other hand, including networking products from Chinese companies does appear to create a threat. Almost every video surveillance camera in the world is manufactured by either Hikvision or Dahua – both Chinese companies. Again, the suggestion is that both have links to the Chinese government.
The ABC reported just 2 weeks ago that cameras from these manufacturers had been installed at a ‘sensitive military base’ and outside the office which houses the governments top lawyers, 2 Federal departments concerned with national security and an Australian Intelligence agency.
Imagine for a second that what appears to be obvious here is actually happening. The Chinese government has strategically invested in developing the best electronic surveillance equipment in the world and sells it at a loss to encourage people, businesses, and the military to buy it. Once installed, Chinese cyber offices hack in and use the facial recognition, gate recognition, voice recognition and all the other surveillance capabilities that were listed in part 2 of this article (link to part 2).
If that was the case, they may well be able to maintain a constant live feed of many of Australian’s citizens, locations, behavior and social networks.
Summing up – why not just sell the data?
Some propose we should just give up and sell all our data. To me, that’s not necessarily a stupid thing to say. The data, as we saw in part 1 and part 2 (link each to corresponding article) is definitely being taken from us, and it’s a trend that will continue. Why not get something in return?
Of course, to sell something, you need to own it. At the moment, if someone takes a picture of you, you don’t own that image. Similarly, you don’t own the data Google, Facebook or The People’s Liberation Army hold on you.