China's Surveillance State from the Olympic Games and Onward

By Matthew Harwood

In the run up to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, which kick-off tomorrow night, the Chinese government has created an all-pervasive surveillance network made up of 300,000 cameras, facial-recognition technology, biometrics, and databases, reports The Los Angeles Times.

China has installed about 300,000 cameras in Beijing under an estimated $6.5-billion, seven-year program dubbed the Grand Beijing Safeguard Sphere. Although face recognition software still can't process rapidly moving images, China hopes that it can soon electronically identify faces out of a vast crowd.

This doesn't include the vast army of Beijing's taxi drivers and citizens the government has organized as a civilian intelligence network.

Take retired subway worker Wu Naimei, 74, who told the Times "If we see any suspicious people, we call the police and report on them. We are happy to help protect our motherland, assist the nation and help our leaders relax."

China has also began phasing in identity cards for its 1.3 billion citizens that hold an enormous amount of biometric data and personal information.

The cards, developed with help from Plano, Texas-based China Information Security Technology, carry radio signal devices and a chip that records not only a person's height, weight and identification number, but also health records, work history, education, travel, religion, ethnicity, reproductive history, police record, medical insurance status and even his or her landlord's phone number.

No one, according to the Times, expects the surveillance network to be dismantled after the Olympic Games end.

As Security Management Senior Editor John Barham discovered in Beijing when researching China's security preparations for the Olympics, China is depending on a smooth 16 days to herald their reemergence as a world power.

As a Western security consultant told him, “There is tremendous 'face' at stake," he said. "The Chinese want everyone to say these were the greatest Olympics ever. Anything less would be a humiliation."

For more on China's muscular security posture, read Barham's "Let the Games Begin -- and End -- Securely."


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