China, the world’s most populous country, continues to devise new methods of keeping tabs on its 1.4 billion citizens. And after the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week about a powerful new spy camera devised by a team of researchers at Duke University who had, incidentally, received funding from the US government, America’s business newspaper of record is back Wednesday with another stunning report, this time about how China is establishing a new system to track cars using electronic tags. Indeed, WSJ describes the plan to “improve public security”, which will also purportedly help ease extreme congestion in the largest Chinese cities.
The plan, which is set to be rolled out by July 1, will rely on chips that can be identified thanks to their unique radio frequency signature. Compliance will be voluntary at first, but it will become mandatory for all new vehicles by Jan. 2019.
Of course, the plan will dramatically expand China’s ability to track its citizens’ every move – something that’s becoming increasingly important as Chinese authorities seek to implement their “social credit score.”
China’s surveillance network already includes powerful cameras that can detect an individual’s facial features from 100 yards away, according to WSJ. Meanwhile, the program will have a serious impact on China’s automotive industry, which is feeding the world’s biggest market, with nearly 30 million vehicles expected to be sold this year.
“It’s all happening in the backdrop of this pretty authoritarian government,” said Ben Green, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society who is researching use of data and technology by city governments. “It’s really hard to imagine that the primary use case is not law enforcement surveillance and other forms of social control.”
As far as western media outlets are concerned, implementing the network will involve RFID chips being affixed to car windshields. As we reported earlier this year, citing a story published in an obscure trade journal, RFID chips are already being used by several governments – including China’s neighbor the Philippines – to aid in tracking their citizens. The system will register details like a drivers’