A few days ago, Human Rights Watch released a report about China’s extensive and quite Orwellian surveillance program, rolled out in the Xinjiang region. Through an app accessible by police and authorised government officials, incredible amounts of data on any given person is collected and stored to be monitored. 1984 plays out like a textbook in China, but what about the West? Here it’s like a play with the curtains closed.
China follows a long tradition of calling their government something that does not reflect the nature of said government. The People’s Republic of China and the Communist Party are mischievous titles for a totalitarian state run by capitalist oligarchs. By reverse engineering the app, Human Rights Watch have been able to determine just how totalitarian and monitored the country really is.
From physical attributes like blood type, finger prints, and height, to public actions like which car you are driving or what items you are purchasing, to personal things like duration of holidays outside China or what political allegiances you hold. People have been detained, possibly tortured, and forced into what is essentially house arrest. All of this is at the discretion of the police and government, with otherwise innocent people being targeted for ‘acting suspicious’.
We in the West look in from the outside and rightfully condemn it for the authoritarian measure it is, and recent criticisms of Huawei worming its way into out tech market are likely well founded. But for the same reason some avoid the Chinese company, many also tend to avoid the US counterparts, namely Apple and Samsung. While we may not have such blatant state suppression (there are subtle hints in Australia, and not so subtle abuses in the US), we are not exempt from this encroachment on basic privacy rights.
Instead of state oppression, we have a much deadlier enemy – corporate tyranny. So much attention is given to our ‘freedoms’, and yet every day we are sold as products to whoever has the cash to buy our information. Yes, we have freedom, it’s just the freedom to sign up to our auctioneer of choice. For now, this information is used to sell products to consumers, an innocent enough venture if you take out the invasive privacy concerns. But abuse like this never stops halfway.
I’ve spoken before about some of the measures companies like Amazon take to increase efficiency, measures that dehumanise workers and make their actions more robotic. So not only are we sold as consumers to the highest bidders, but in the workplace people are no more than another expense, a cog in the wheel of private enterprise. Other than the much higher level of quality, one benefit of public service jobs like healthcare or education is that the profits are more than simple monetary goals.
It’s ironic when people commenting online say they would pick Huawei over an iPhone or vice versa. The only real difference is who collects your information – the Chinese government or the American monopolies. While, obviously, it is much appreciated in the West that we don’t have such damning authoritarianism in the sense of thoughtcrime, our vigilance cannot wane. Apathy and disinterest will give those in power the opportunity they need to chip away at our rights to privacy.
The Coalition has already tried pushing for our security agencies to get backdoor access to our social media profiles, a topic brilliantly satirised by The Juice Media. Officially, the US’ Pine Gap base near Alice Springs is for signal intelligence, but there is grounds for concern about what does take place there; it does indeed have SIGINT capabilities that help implicate us in the illegal wars following 9/11, but I would be surprised if data collection doesn’t take place there.
Authoritarianism, in all its forms, corporate or state, needs to be called out and torn down. A country or region is only truly democratic when both the political and work spheres are democratic – we have a long way to go before this can be realised.
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