Watcha Gonna Do When They Come for You?

After 30 years, the methods have become invisible

Chinese state security agencies are likely using the technology to target human rights activists, pro-democracy advocates, and critics of President Xi Jinping’s regime, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisals.

Ryan Gallagher, How US Tech Giants Are helping to Build Chinas Surveillance State, The Intercept, July 11, 2019.

Today’s New York Times website carries an article by Cade Metz describing improved facial recognition technology. Databases of faces compiled without the people’s knowledge. I fear age old methods of resistance have become obsolete. It’s all adding up to total control.

During the heyday of Empire, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the British Empire also appeared all powerful. Unassailable. The notion of resisting the most powerful government on Earth seemed ludicrous. And yet there were courageous leaders in both the American Revolution, and the Indian independence movement that dared the impossible and succeeded.

Before I get to Mr. Gallagher’s article in The Intercept, I would like to call your attention to one who dared. In Peter Heeh’s excellent biography, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, he describes in detail the more obscure aspects of the early Indian independence movement. While Aurobindo Ghose is not as well known as Gandhi, he is revered in India as one of the liberators. Before he began his more famous spiritual journey, he was quite the radical mastermind plotting independence, swaraj, or self-rule for India. He designed a multifront campaign starting with journalism, but also included terrorism, complete with bombs. The final stage would be total noncooperation. Thrown into prison, Aurobindo was almost executed. Gandhi carried on, but for him it finished him tragically. In the late 19th century, overthrowing British rule seemed unthinkable to both the Indian political elites as well as the average person in the street. It was Aurobindo’s belief that once it was demonstrated that independence and self rule was possible, it would become a fixed idea in enough people, so that success became inevitable. Surveillance technology may make that belief obsolete.

Now, the Chinese Communist Party is cranking up state controlled surveillance in a way that seems to be a throwback to the overt oppression of the 19th century European empires. No more Tiananmen Squares. Thanks to American innovation, they are using techniques almost unimaginably more insidious than the secret police of yesteryear. And who’s to say that the US government won’t emulate it, especially now that China is asserting itself as a global power? The point is that, with the surveillance technology that is being employed by the Chinese government, the methods Aurobindo used and encouraged in India would never get off the ground in today’s China. It does not bode well for dissent and adequate information in the US.

Blame the OpenPower Foundation. The Intercept article has described it as a nonprofit led by executives from Google and IBM. This sweet and innocent “driver of innovation” has arranged collaboration with Chinese and American companies resulting in “Aegis”, a new, more powerful surveillance system. Let’s let Mr. Gallagher speak:

Aegis can provide “a full view to the virtual world,” the company claims in the documents, allowing government spies to see “the connections of everyone,” including “location information for everyone in the country.”
The system can also “block certain information [on the] internet from being visited,” censoring content that the government does not want citizens to see, the documents show.
Chinese state security agencies are likely using the technology to target human rights activists.
Aegis equipment has been placed within China’s phone and internet networks, enabling the country’s government to secretly collect people’s email records, phone calls, text messages, cellphone locations, and web browsing histories,

Ryan Gallagher, “How US Tech Giants Are Helping To Build China’s Surveillance State”

So far, it appears that the Chinese government is able to monitor 200,000,000 people. If you think it’s a little creepy for Google to ask you to review a place you just visited, imagine a government focusing of signs of dissent based on what you’ve, said, read, visited, or who you’ve befriended. Its companies are selling this technology to other governments, especially in the Middle East.

How could an Aurobindo, a Gandhi, a Martin Luther King, or even a Thomas Paine mount massive resistance in the face of such a technology capable of nipping it in the bud?


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