"In 2006, the Chinese government mandated
that all Internet cafes (as well as restaurants and other "entertainment"
venues) install video cameras with direct feeds to their local police
stations. Part of a wider surveillance project known as "Safe
Cities," the effort now encompasses 660 municipalities in China.
It is the most ambitious new government program in the Pearl River
Delta, and supplying it is one of the fastest-growing new markets
But the cameras that Zhang manufactures are only
part of the massive experiment in population control that is under
way here. "The big picture," Zhang tells me in his office
at the factory, "is integration." That means linking cameras
with other forms of surveillance: the Internet, phones, facial-recognition
and GPS monitoring.
This is how this Golden Shield will work: Chinese
citizens will be watched around the clock through networked CCTV
cameras and remote monitoring of computers. They will be listened
to on their phone calls, monitored by digital voice-recognition
technologies. Their Internet access will be aggressively
limited through the country's notorious system of online controls
known as the "Great Firewall." Their movements will be
tracked through national ID cards with scannable computer chips
and photos that are instantly uploaded to police databases and linked
to their holder's personal data. This is the most important element
of all: linking all these tools together in a massive, searchable
database of names, photos, residency information, work history and
biometric data. When Golden Shield is finished, there will be a
photo in those databases for every person in China: 1.3 billion
Shenzhen is the place where the shield has received
its most extensive fortifications - the place where all the spy
toys are being hooked together and tested to see what they can do.
"The central government eventually wants to have city-by-city
surveillance, so they could just sit and monitor one city and its
surveillance system as a whole," Zhang says. "It's all
part of that bigger project. Once the tests are done and it's proven,
they will be spreading from the big province to the cities, even
to the rural farmland."
The answer is Golden Shield. When Tibet erupted
in protests recently, the surveillance system was thrown into its
first live test, with every supposedly liberating tool of the Information
Age - cellphones, satellite television, the Internet - transformed
into a method of repression and control. As soon as the
protests gathered steam, China reinforced its Great Firewall, blocking
its citizens from accessing dozens of foreign news outlets. In some
parts of Tibet, Internet access was shut down altogether. Many people
trying to phone friends and family found that their calls were blocked,
and cellphones in Lhasa were blitzed with text messages from the
police: "Severely battle any creation or any spreading of rumors
that would upset or frighten people or cause social disorder or
illegal criminal behavior that could damage social stability".
During the first week of protests, foreign journalists
who tried to get into Tibet were systematically turned back. But
that didn't mean that there were no cameras inside the besieged
areas. Since early last year, activists in Lhasa have been reporting
on the proliferation of black-domed cameras that look like streetlights
- just like the ones I saw coming off the assembly line in Shenzhen.
Tibetan monks complain that cameras - activated by motion sensors
- have invaded their monasteries and prayer rooms".
"You have probably never heard of L-1, but
there is every chance that it has heard of you. Few companies have
collected as much sensitive information about U.S. citizens and
visitors to America as L-1: It boasts a database of 60 million records,
and it "captures" more than a million new fingerprints
every year. Here is a small sample of what the company does: produces
passports and passport cards for American citizens; takes finger
scans of visitors to the U.S. under the Department of Homeland Security's
massive U.S.-Visit program; equips U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan
with "mobile iris and multimodal devices" so they can
collect biometric data in the field; maintains the State Department's
"largest facial-recognition database system"; and produces
driver's licenses in Illinois, Montana and North Carolina. In addition,
L-1 has an even more secretive intelligence unit called SpecTal.
Asked by a Wall Street analyst to discuss, in "extremely general"
terms, what the division was doing with contracts worth roughly
$100 million, the company's CEO would only say, "Stay tuned".
"Empowered by the Patriot Act, many of the
big dreams hatched by men like Atick have already been put into
practice at home. New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., are all
experimenting with linking surveillance cameras into a single citywide
network. Police use of surveillance cameras at peaceful demonstrations
is now routine, and the images collected can be mined for "face
prints," then cross-checked with ever-expanding photo databases.
Although Total Information Awareness was scrapped after the plans
became public, large pieces of the project continue, with private
data-mining companies collecting unprecedented amounts of information
about everything from Web browsing to car rentals, and selling it
to the government".