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China Expands “Pre-Crime” Data Program

It sounds like something out of a science fiction book or movie: it is confirmed that the Chinese government is expanding upon its already robust surveillance database in order to automatically track people and crunch the data in order to predict who is highly likely to commit an act of terrorism.

According to a recent ARS Technica blog post, the Chinese government is basing much of its current technology upon advances that have already been made in US law enforcement surveillance.  These “predictive policing” technologies track people based on their purchases, online interactions, phone calls, movements, and more.  The government is then able to dispatch police and military power to where crime is likely to occur.

In a communist environment such as China, this power is very Orwellian.  Imagine if Tiananmen Square had never happened?  If the communist party was able to predict this event and stop it in its tracks before it ever occurred?  New technology is starting to be able to monitor an entire population for deviance from the norm.

It’s pretty scary, however China is getting a lot of ideas from the United States itself.  Although the US has a lot of laws in place respecting personal privacy, China does not have a lot of those limitations in place.

Back in 1994 predictive policing was first used in New York City where data allowed the police force to deploy officers to places where crime was statistically likely to occur.  Although crime fell 34% in three years it also opened a can of worms about the nature of the unconstitutional “stop and frisk” tendencies in which minorities where often targeted just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But again, China doesn’t have many limitations on personal privacy, and its ability to use the internet to monitor citizens is much stronger.  It can use predictive policing in a much more pinpointed fashion, and even target individual citizens.

China increased spending in this arena quite a bit, and is urging cities to set up cameras and connect itself into the larger web of surveillance technology including internet and other monitoring systems.

In a strange turn of events, China recently strengthened laws and even included the ability to force tech and internet companies to provide the Chinese government with backdoors and the ability to decrypt user data.  The US as well as many international human rights groups objected to such laws, however most recently the FBI is ordering Apple to provide a backdoor into an iPhone used by a terrorist.  This lawsuit is being followed very closely by the Chinese.

It’s an interesting development in a country that already has quite a bit of unchecked power over its citizens.  However the United States isn’t that far behind when it comes to predictive policing elements.  What do you think about this new technology?  Is it a help to society or a threat to personal privacy?  Leave a comment below

About John Martinus

John Martinus has been in and around the tech industry for 15 years. He has a lot of experience since the early days of the internet. He lives in Southern California and when he's not writing tech articles he is hiking or surfing.

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