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China watches the world

4 August 2020

The eyes of the state are upon us.

No, seriously... they are. I'm not talking conspiracy theories, I'm talking about the exploding use of CCTV cameras to provide security and help in the prevention, detection and solving of crimes.

In some countries, such as the UK, there's barely a square cm of urban areas that are not visible to one or more cameras monitored by police. Even the motorway networks are festooned with cameras capable of automatically reading numberplates and thus tracking any vehicle as it moves about the country.

For most people, this level of surveillance is the price we pay for security and the loss of privacy has been so insideous that most have accepted the trade involved.

However, whilst 24/7 omnipresent surveillance via cameras may be something we accept from our own government and its agencies, what happens when it's a foreign government doing the watching? Are we as comfortable with that?

Best estimates put the number of government-monitored CCTV cameras on the Chinese mainland at about half a billion. That's about the same ratio per-capita as the USA.

It might surprise some people to realise that the USA is just as much a "big brother" from this perspective as is the Chinese Communist Party.

However, the USA is growing very concerned of late that China might just be using cameras to spy on US citizens in the good old US of A.

The US Federal Government has banned the use of Chinese-made DJI drones by its agencies, for fear that video and pictures taken by those drones might be covertly send off to Chinese-based servers under the control of the Chinese government. A number of independent tests conducted in the US have claimed to have seen evidence of this happening but I suspect that the vast majority of the pressure is coming from "the very top" and is driven more by politics than any actual proof of wrong-doing.

But now an even greater potential for "spying" by China is rasing its ugly head.

Huge numbers of IP-connected cameras are in service around the USA. The vast majority of these cameras are "made in China" and we've already read endless reports of them being hacked and turned into spy-cams by spotty-faced teens or others with malicious intent.

Well forget the nuisance value of that... what if those cameras have inbuilt back-doors that could be activated remotely by the Chinese government? Can you imagine the effect of all those cameras being categorised, indexed and given a rating by China, then used to surveil high-value people or places -- without anyone knowing.

Forget drones, forget about hacking into US government surveilance networks -- China my have effectively built the world's largest network of spycams right under our noses.

Or maybe that's just more hyperbole from the conspiracy theorists and politicians who are hell-bent on vilifying all-things-Chinese.

Never the less, it does warrant a bit of a ponder doesn't it?

Just what would be the implications if all those IP-connected cameras were able to be accessed by a foreign power as/when they chose to?

Should we be worried?

If we can't trust Huawei, how can we trust *any* tech coming out of China?

Does it even matter? After all, haven't our politicians already told us that "only those with something to hide have anything to fear"?

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