In China surveillance is like an evolving organism. At first, it started small, but now it’s growing bigger and bigger, getting more powerful every day to combat crime and terrorism.
However, as we’ve seen numerous times this year alone, the Chinese government doesn’t always make the best decisions when it comes to deciding who’s guilty of what, and what is even against the law. This means that the more powerful the government gets, the worse decision it can make which affect the world at large. We’ve seen Nobel peace prize winners jailed and killed, and we’ve seen people jailed for selling VPN technology in China.
Now in late 2017, China is growing and expanding its massive surveillance network with voice capabilities integrated into an artificial intelligence system that can scan audio at a mass scale to root out and target individuals.
The technology used by the Chinese government has already collected thousands of audio samples from Chinese citizens. These samples have been input into an automated database created by a Chinese voice recognition and artificial intelligence specialist called iFlytech. While DNA, and fingerprints are still a thing, this audio sampling adds another layer to surveillance capabilities.
When entering China, everyone has to give up a fingerprint. Right now, there are some 40 million fingerprinted people who have been logged within systems in China as well as 1 billion faces that have been scanned. While audio input into the database is relatively new in comparison, the Human Rights Watch estimates that over 70 thousands voices have been catalogued. One instance of mandatory voice sampling took place in Xinjiang, where police set up a system to log citizens who were just trying get a passport.
China explains that it needs to collect audio samples of citizens in order to root out criminals and people who could violate the law. Chinese reports explain that the necessity lies in the ability to combat fraud, trafficking, kidnapping, blackmail, and other criminal cases.
But at what point will the audio sampling help the government root out criminals who perform less offensive or perhaps morally grey crimes? In the past, China has used the same terminology to combat political protest and free speech, so it’s easy to understand why Human Rights groups are concerned about this massive upgrade to the surveillance system already in place.
“Authorities can easily misuse that data in a country with a long history of unchecked surveillance and retaliation against critics,” Sophie Richardson, HRW’s China director says.
China has placed extreme security measures in order to save face, like placing cameras outside activist’s houses, and they’ve even jailed numerous government critics who post on social media.