China: Time for a new conversation about privacy invasion

According to Privacy International, the list of endemic surveillance societies is topped by China, followed by Malaysia, Russia, Singapore, the UK and Taiwan, Thailand and the United States. In a post [zh] on her Phoenix blog, as someone with memories of a childhood severely lacking in privacy, poet and United States Naval Academy professor Rui Shen asks: with nearly every minute of our lives now under some form of surveillance, isn't it time for a discussion on privacy intrusion that goes far beyond airport security theater?


I was watching the news the other day. A report came on which said that in all major shops in America now, video cameras are set up to capture every single customer, the purpose of this surveillance being not to catch shoplifters, but for research into purchasing behavior. The manager of one store explained what is seen on screen: “See this customer, he's been standing in front of this rack for ten minutes, clearly he needs some assistance. The video camera helps us increase our sales, I'll send someone over now.” The reporter asked, “but these video cameras do also serve other purposes, right?” The manager laughed: “Well, that's another question.”


Following the news was a debate between a few people. None of them liked that video cameras are so pervasive, and have felt this way for many years; yet the number of video cameras continues to grow, instead of going down. We have no privacy; when we make love at home, space satellites can see us. It's like the past days of Communism when we couldn't have sex in our homes if we weren't married, nor could we be anti-Party at home, because the walls had ears and someone would report us to the local neighborhood association committee for having sex without a license or for being counterrevolutionaries.

From Huang Shuai to a climate of exposure in the 1970s, and the kind of exposure we should actually be worried about today:

现在我们大概不必需要揭发了,因为我们生活在一个时刻被监视的时代。摄像机冷冷的眼睛时刻盯着我们,观察着我们的一举一动。在新科技的引领下,我们走向一个时刻暴露的新纪元。基于对这个伟大时代的恐惧,我至今还没敢上Facebook,也不打算上去。刚刚阅读的文章说,facebook 的信息被卖给广告公司,我的生活虽然没有什么秘密,但是我对自己的信息被买卖感到不自在。基于这些原因,我不上新浪留言,不上搜狐留言,不上微博发言,不上很多网站。

There isn't much need to expose anyone in this age of nonstop surveillance. With their cold eyes, cameras stare constantly at us, watching our every move. Guided by new technologies, we are entering a new era in which every moment is laid bare. Out of fear of these great times, even to this day I don't dare go on Facebook and have no plans to do so. Having just read an article on how Facebook sells its data to advertising companies, while I have no secrets in my life, I do nonetheless feel uneasy about having information about me being bought and sold. It's for this reason that I don't leave comments on Sina or Sohu, why I don't keep a microblog, and why I don't visit many websites.

其实我知道自己的做法只是一种自我欺骗,因为摄像机已经无所不在。这些天美国的媒体在争论飞机场安检问题。一些人对飞机场的能看到人体的安检措施不满,认为是侵害了他们的隐私。我看新闻中的争论,想,这些人是糊涂还是愚蠢?如果你在家上网,买东西,你的信息已经被暴露了。你的身体还有什么隐私?走过X光机,你担心你的隐私会被暴露?你的隐私无非是你身体的形状你的什么器官的样子,whocares about that? 你的真正的隐私不在这里,而在电脑里,而在你走的大街上,而在你去的每一个地方。你天天上什么网?你的电脑里有记录,有人在做这个调查。你去商店买什么东西?有统计数字分析你的习惯。你跟什么人在一起玩?有摄像机在看着你。生活在时刻被监视的时代,难道我们还有隐私可谈吗?

In fact, I know that in doing so I'm in a way deceiving myself, because video cameras are already so ubiquitous. American media have recently been discussing issues of airport security. Some people disagree with airport security measures that display people's bodies, feeling those to be an invasion of their privacy. Watching the debate on the news, though, I wonder: are these people confused or just stupid?

If you have Internet access at home, if you've ever purchased something online, your data has already been exposed. So how much privacy of person do you think you still have? If you've ever had an X-ray done, were you worried that your privacy would be infringed? Your privacy has nothing to do with the shape of your body or the appearance of your genitalia, why would anyone care about that? Your true privacy isn't found there, but in your computer, in the streets upon which you walk, and every place you go.

Those websites you visit? A list of them is being kept in your computer and being studied by people right now. How about the things you buy at the store? Statistics on your shopping habits are being analyzed. The people you hang out with? There's a camera watching you. In an age when every minute of our lives are under surveillance, just how much privacy are we left with?

1 comment

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.