China’s surveillance tech could give even more power to its government

China’s surveillance tech could give even more power to its government

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The Chinese government's broad domestic surveillance is starting to spread to other places around the world, raising concerns about the power it would give to the Communist Party should the data from the technology return to Beijing.

China currently has millions of cameras equipped with facial recognition technology placed on almost every corner. Some of its most prominent companies that build advanced AI surveillance technology, including Huawei, ZTE, and Hikvision, are also exporting such tools. According to a report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, technologies linked to Chinese companies can be found in at least 63 countries and 36 of those, mostly Western countries, have taken part in China's Belt and Road Initiative.

Concerns: Experts warn of the possibility that the Chinese government will get its hands on the information the surveillance technology is collecting. Samantha Hoffman, speaking on  CNBC’s “Beyond the Valley” podcast, pointed to laws that might force Chinese companies to give the data to the government.

“I think that sometimes there is an assumption that ‘oh well when we roll out this technology we aren’t going to use it in a negative way, we are using it to provide services or we are using it in a way that is seen as acceptable, socially acceptable in our society,’” Hoffman said. “But actually (we) can’t be sure of that because the difference isn’t necessarily how the technology is being deployed, but who has access to the data it’s collecting. If it’s a Chinese company like Huawei and that … data goes back to China and can be used by the party in whatever way that it chooses.”

“You know, domestically and globally, it (Chinese Communist Party) plans to use technology as a way to both protect and expand its power. Globally, the implications of that are that the party is trying to reshape global governance in a way that ... will ensure the party’s power," added Hoffman.

“I think the worse future could be these governments adopting these technologies and adding that arsenal to the existing ones for the control of people,” Maya Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch told CNBC News.

Facial recognition technology has been coming under criticism in Europe and the US as citizens fear it would be the first step toward establishing a surveillance state. Police have argued that it would help reduce crimes and violence on the streets and others believe that it needs to be perfected as it can misidentify people of color. The critics say it infringes upon their privacy rights.

Facebook also recently introduced an "opt-in" feature that gives users the ability to toggle face recognition on or off.

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