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Thursday, August 16, 2007

China's version of CCTV

I know less about the tech-and-privacy debate than I should, but this New York Times article caught my eye.  Not because I'm at all surprised that China would "enact[] a high-tech plan to track people" -- after all, why wouldn't the PRC enact such a plan, if it could? -- but because the "20,000 police surveillance cameras" that are being installed "will soon be guided by sophisticated computer software from an American-financed company to recognize automatically the faces of police suspects and detect unusual activity."  Later on:

The role of American companies in helping Chinese security forces has periodically been controversial in the United States. Executives from Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Cisco Systems testified in February 2006 at a Congressional hearing called to review whether they had deliberately designed their systems to help the Chinese state muzzle dissidents on the Internet; they denied having done so.


Posted by Rick Garnett on August 16, 2007 at 05:20 PM in Criminal Law | Permalink


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I think the current administration has been at the forefront of "outsourcing" surveillance to, say, phone companies, search engines, etc. It does not surprise me that large corporations who are happy to help an American administration "rout around" longstanding privacy protections for American citizens would want to extend that business experience in China.

In fact, from a positivist standpoint, perhaps working for the Chinese government is "less illegal" than what many have done for the U.S. government, since China may not even have laws on the books providing for rights that American citizens are granted. Of course, the U.S. has an answer here too: it is using the "state secrets" privilege to quash judicial oversight, a privilege that is also a favorite of the Chinese government. That may not formally immunize the companies, but does make it impossible for victims of the surveillance to gather the evidence they need.


Finally, I'm not saying "China is better than the U.S."--obviously we have many more rights and liberties. I'm just saying that the current administration's views on civil liberties would leave it in a difficult position to criticize the companies now helping China.

Posted by: Frank | Aug 17, 2007 8:45:09 AM

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