Big brother is filming you

Remember all that fuss about Britains’s identity card or London’s congestion charge?

The southern China city of Shenzhen managed to bundle both issues together by installing more than 20,000 police surveillance cameras (New York has 3,000…) that automatically recognise the faces of police suspects and detect unusual activity.

If that wasn’t enough, 12 million people will by issued residency cards fitted with powerful computer chips, holding their name and address but also work history, educational background, religion, ethnicity, police record, medical insurance status and landlord’s phone number. Even personal reproductive history will be included, for enforcement of the “one child” policy. In theory, the scheme should be deployed across all large cities throughout the country for the 150 million people who have moved to a city but not yet acquired permanent residency there. Unsurprisingly, there is currently no law protecting personal data and individuals have no right to access their personal files such as banking and credit records.

Time to worry? Not quite. An enhanced ID card chip program (Golden Shield) has been around for a decade but the basic version of the scan-able card hasn’t been launched anywhere. A medical record plan from 2000, under which community-based clinics were surveying everyone in the community about health conditions and environmental hazards in homes (to build a massive national database predicting diseases) had the same fate.

The good news is that China, amid rising anger at how easily people’s private details are falling into the hands of advertisers, is planning to introduce its first law on protecting personal data.