Nothing like a cup of joe to start the day. Unless it’s a story like this one in the Times to get your adrenaline pumping. US firms are financing a Chinese surveillance system that sounds straight out of a dystopian SF novel. Using a combination of surveillance cameras, face recognition software, and chips embedded in identity cards, authorities will be able to identify criminals. And everyone else.
Data on the chip will include not just the citizen’s name and address but also work history, educational background, religion, ethnicity, police record, medical insurance status and landlord’s phone number. Even personal reproductive history will be included, for enforcement of China’s controversial “one child” policy. Plans are being studied to add credit histories, subway travel payments and small purchases charged to the card.
Security experts describe China’s plans as the world’s largest effort to meld cutting-edge computer technology with police work to track the activities of a population and fight crime. But they say the technology can be used to violate civil rights.
All of which reminds me of the opening of Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil in which a swatted fly falling into a typewriter changes the name “Tuttle” to “Buttle” and sets off a chain reaction that ruins lives. Ductwork and mountains of office paperwork take on sinister lives of their own, as well, showing what happens when we let the machine take over. All rendered in a curious retro-techno satirical carnival of badly-run state power.
It’s not technology that I distrust. It’s the people using it.