Authorities in China are installing surveillance devices in electrically-powered bicycles and motorbikes, raising concerns that the government wants to track the movement of citizens.
According to Ms. Chen (a pseudonym) from Huanan county of Jiamusi city, Heilongjiang Province in Northeast China, in August of this year, the local police assembled all the citizens from her village who have electric transportation, and installed surveillance devices in their vehicles on the grounds of “issuing new license plates.”
Ms. Chen was offended by the thought of having her movements tracked, and refused to allow the surveillance equipment to be installed. The police threatened to confiscate her vehicle if she did not agree, so Ms. Chen had no choice but to comply.
Villagers report that electric bicycles, scooters, and motorcycles are the primary means of transportation for the local people, meaning the government will be able to follow and record all of their movements. One villager complained, “Being monitored so closely by the government, sometimes I feel like I’m inferior to my own farm animals. The animals have more freedom than we do!”
To add insult to injury, every villager was required to pay an installation fee of 380 RMB (about 55 USD). They were also required to take a photo with their newly-issued license and register their personal information.
The installation of surveillance equipment in electric vehicles is not an isolated phenomenon. Villagers in Henan Province, in Central China along the Yellow River Valley, have reported that all the residents in their village were required to have surveillance equipment installed while issuing new license plates.
Government personnel say the tracking devices are meant to counter theft: if a bicycle or scooter is lost or stolen, it can be found easily. One resident argued to police officials that he didn’t want a tracking device installed because his vehicle is already old, and he is not afraid of losing it. The police were unmoved, and required him to install a new license plate and surveillance anyway.
Some villagers in Heilongjiang’s Huanan county received a different justification from police when asked why the devices were being installed. Rather than citing concerns of theft, police in Huanan said that the goal was to know where the villagers go and what they do every day.
Police in Huanan showed how closely they were monitoring the devices when they showed up unexpectedly at one villager’s house. This man, indignant at being monitored by authorities, removed the tracking device when he got home. Just two days later, officers were at his door. He reports they scolded him, and said, “Who told you to remove the surveillance equipment? The police were unable to monitor you and didn’t know where you were or what you were doing.” He was ordered to reinstall the surveillance equipment immediately or face arrest.
The surveillance of vehicles and the collection of personal data by the Chinese government has recently captured international headlines. On November 29, the Associated Press published an investigative report, revealing that more than 200 automobile manufacturers in China send a series of data, including users’ vehicle positioning, to a surveillance center supported by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities, without vehicle owners being informed. According to the report: “Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China has unleashed a war on dissent, marshalling big data and artificial intelligence to create a more perfect kind of policing, capable of predicting and eliminating perceived threats to the stability of the ruling Communist Party.”
On December 10, Markus Beeko, the General Secretary of the German section of Amnesty International, condemned China for its severe violations of human rights in an interview with RFI (Radio France Internationale). He said: “China is constantly trying to challenge human rights that have already become an international standard. People must be vigilant about China’s practice of launching an attack on human rights awareness that has existed for 70 years.” He added that China fundamentally refuses to recognize human rights, and that certain domestic developments in China are equally worrying, especially the Chinese government’s use of new technologies to conduct large-scale surveillance of the public. “The Chinese government’s electronic surveillance of its people has deeply penetrated all aspects of their life. Establishing a ‘social credit system’ and implementing a scoring system for individuals is an utter misplacement of surveillance,” Beeko said.
Reported by Piao Junying