The New York Times recently reported that a Bain Capital fund bought the “video surveillance division of a Chinese company that claims to be the largest supplier to the government’s Safe Cities program, a highly advanced monitoring system that allows the authorities to watch over university campuses, hospitals, mosques and movie theaters from centralized command posts.”
China isn’t known for its dedication to human rights, and the expansive network of surveillance cameras China is attempting to build is not a step in the right direction. According to the article, 13 cameras were placed around the apartment of the politically active filmmaker Yang Weidong after he submitted an interview request to President Hu Jintao. Even more disturbing, footage recorded by cameras outside of a hotel was used to manipulate Li Tiantian, a human rights lawyer, while she was illegally detained for three months.
The article points out that when U.S. companies, such as Bain Capital, supply the Chinese government with tools of privacy invasion, they are directly hindering the growth of freedom and democracy in China. Although criticisms of such companies are valid, I fear they are missing the much larger problem. China’s government isn’t the only one ramping up surveillance. Governments from around the world are creating the demand that Bain Capital and other companies are responding to. Follow the money, and you will find the source of the problem.
Before I go any further, I want to be clear. The purpose of this article isn’t to warn you of black helicopters, but rather to illustrate how similar the extensive surveillance program in China is to programs in “free” countries.
The UK has long been known for its excessive use of surveillance CCTV. Big Brother Watch UK used a Freedom of Information request to discover that over a 3 year period, local governments alone spent around $400 million on CCTV instillation and operation. The biggest spender was the city of Birmingham, which controversially targets Muslim areas, totaling around $16.5 million.
The U.S. is not exempt from this trend of increased surveillance. The ACLU’s “You are being watched” campaign highlights how surveillance cameras are growing in prevalence and sophistication, and are an ever increasing threat to our privacy. California led the charge initially, but increased surveillance is trending in cities across the U.S. The Department of Homland Security has spent billions of dollars on surveillance in the U.S., the most ironic example being a $5,000 grant for surveillance cameras given to a small town in Kansas with a population of 95 people. The town's name: Liberty.
Interest in increasing surveillance isn’t limited to the Chinese government. The reality is that it is another symptom of increasing the size of government. We could focus our scorn on the Bain Capitols of the world, but as long as governments around the world continue to create the demand, there will always be another company to take the place of the last. If we truely want to protect the privacy and liberties of the Chinese people, we need to address the source of the demand: government. Maybe next time, the New York Times will write about the cause of the problem, even if it is harder to connect to a Republican candidate.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons