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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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24/7 surveilance: good or bad?

19 October 2021

I'm sure that everyone here has read, or at least heard of, George Orwell's novel 1984 and the dystopian picture it pains of a future world.

Although I've already written several columns on just how very real some of Orwell's visions have become, I watched a video yesterday that showed just how much worse it is likely to get.

If we think big brother is watching us now, just wait until we follow China's lead; and don't think for one minute we wont.

If the video from DW TV is correct, and I have no reason to think it is not, China is an almost perfect analog of what Orwell was predicting.

Although, at 42 minutes, the video is a bit long, it is certainly worth a watch, in my opinion.

Perhaps the ideal diversion instead of another episode of Shortland Street or whatever the soap de jour is these days.

The level of surveilance in China is mind-boggling. It seems that every citizen's every move is now monitored by cameras and an insanely complex AI system is able to sort through the incomprehensibly large amount of data to flag events that are considered undesirable.

Entire buildings are set up in Chinese cities to house and process the live data streams from these cameras and it appears that authorities spring into action whenever someone is detected breaking the rules. Even trival offenses such as discarding your rubbish in the wrong place will sound alarms and invoke a response.

Likewise, not wearing a mask when in public can be easily detected by the system and acted on by response teams.

The most interesting aspect of this situation is the way the Chinese people seem to have embraced this level of surveilance as being a good thing. They welcome the safety and security that comes from having even the slightest misdemeanor caught and remedied. Rather than being seen as a malevolent authoritarian brute, they see "big brother" as a kind, benevolent actor whose goal is to protect them from bad things.

Is this brain washing by the state, or is it actually the reality of the situation?

In most Western democracies we tend to think of state surveilance as a bad thing and something to be challenged. However, could it be we who are wrong and the Chinese who have got it right?

Well personally I'm still not a fan of overly zealous state surveilance of the people.

The sad fact is that eventually, all power is abused and when powers are abused, people suffer unnecessarily. I don't want that.

A state should only have such power and surveilance over its people as is necessary to provide *reasonable* safety and security. A great deal of the responsibility for our safety and security should fall on our shoulders, not the government. If we cede too much authority to the government we make ourselves vulnerable to that abuse of power I just mentioned.

However, it must be said that the Chinese system has delivered some impressive results in respect to China's performance on the world stage... at least from an economic perspective.

Sadly, I predict that we will all become like China in the years to come. How convenient that a pandemic (turned endemic disease) such as Covid 19 will provide even more justification (on the grounds of "safety") for such overt and ubiquitous surveilance to be introduced with barely a whimper from the general populace.

Where are we headed?

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